Long Pond, PA – It's a busy weekend of auto racing in North America. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is running at Pocono Raceway, while the IndyCar Series is racing at Texas Motor Speedway and Formula One competing at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.
Sprint Cup Series
Party in the Poconos 400 - Pocono Raceway - Long Pond, Pa.
With half of the 26-race regular season now completed, the road to the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship moves on to Pocono Raceway.
The 12-driver field for the Chase will be determined after the Sept. 7 race at Richmond. The top-10 in points and two wild cards -- drivers ranked 11th-20th in points with the most wins -- will make up the field.
Heading into Sunday's 400-mile race at Pocono, Brad Keselowski is 10th in the rankings, while Jeff Gordon is just eight points behind in 11th. Keselowski, the defending Sprint Cup Series champion, and Gordon, a four-time titleholder in the series, have yet to win a race this season.
The current margin from eighth-place Kyle Busch to 13th-place Greg Biffle is 21 points. One year ago, nine of the 10 drivers who qualified for the Chase by points occupied a top-10 position entering the June race at Pocono.
With his victory this past Sunday at Dover, Tony Stewart moved from 20th to 16th in points. Stewart is now the wild card leader since he is the only driver 11th-20th that has a win this season. Gordon occupies the second wild card. He moved up four positions in the standings with his third-place finish at Dover.
"It's certainly a great feeling," Gordon said. "We have been running good. We just have had some things happen to us, kind of like last year, some self- inflicted and some things out of our hands. We have just got to fight ... That's what got us in the Chase last year, and that's what is going to get us in there this year."
Gordon's victory in the rain-shortened race at Pocono last August helped him earn the final wild card spot for the 2012 Chase. It was the seventh year in a row that he made the playoffs. Gordon also collected his record sixth win at Pocono 10 months ago. He is the all-time lap leader at this 2.5-mile triangular racetrack as well with 965.
"Pocono is a unique track," he said. "You can go out there thinking you're pushing hard and be a second off the pace. It's a track where a lot of speed can be lost or gained based on how hard you push it. Finding the edge and the limits is a little bit tougher on such a big race track with three unique corners. The tunnel turn (2) has always been one of the most hair-raising experiences on our schedule. It takes full commitment. When you hit it right, it's a beautiful thing."
Gordon recorded his 301st career top-five finish at Dover, tying David Pearson for third on the all-time top-five list in NASCAR's premier series. He has scored 18 top-fives and 28 top-10s in 40 starts at Pocono.
Keselowski turned his season back in the right direction with a fifth-place run at Dover. He had finished 15th or worse in the four races during the month of May. After holding the points lead following the March 17 event at Bristol, Keselowski had gradually fallen in the rankings.
"I thought we came out of the gate really strong with top-five (finishes) in the first few races and having a shot of winning probably six or seven of the first 10 races," Keselowski said. "But we ran through a little bit of a road bump through the month of May, and that was definitely a little bit tough to go through. I think we're going to come out of it stronger.
"We've kind of backslid from leading the points to 10th in the last month or two, which has been frustrating. But we think we've got our fingers on what it will take to get back up there and hopefully get a win or two here."
Earlier this week, Keselowski's No. 2 Penske Racing team was hit with its second penalty by NASCAR this season. His car failed post-race inspection at Dover when officials discovered the front end was too low. He received a loss of six points, which dropped him two spots in the standings. Crew chief Paul Wolfe was fined $25,000, and Roger Penske was docked six car owner points.
Penske officials noted that Keselowski's car "experienced a part failure," which resulted in it failing post-race inspection.
"I would like to see, maybe not short-term but long-term vision of the sport, where we just accept the fact that the cars race at a different state than what they go through during inspection," Keselowski said. "That would make it a lot easier on everybody, including NASCAR. That's not the current rule. Per the current rules, we were wrong, and that responsibility is on us."
In April, Keselowski lost 25 points and several members of his team were suspended from NASCAR competition after officials found illegal parts on his car prior to the start of the 500-mile event at Texas. Wolfe, car chief Jerry Kelley, team engineer Brian Wilson and team manager Travis Geisler were originally suspended for six points-paying races, but that suspension period was reduced to two races when Penske made its final appeal last month.
Forty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Party in the Poconos 400.
DuPont Pioneer 250 - Iowa Speedway - Newton, Iowa
The Nationwide Series will run its first "stand alone" race of the 2013 season on Saturday night at Iowa Speedway.
Elliott Sadler is one driver who is really looking forward to Iowa. Sadler has finished no worse than fifth in his four races at this 0.875-mile racetrack. He won the most recent Nationwide event here last August.
"Iowa is probably my best track," said Sadler, who is in his first year as driver of the No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. "Mentally, as I show up, I know where I want to be on the track, where I need to be on the gas, on the brake, how my car needs to feel in practice to be in the race. It is a really good track to me.
"That being said, we need to go there and have a great, competitive weekend. But I can't think of another track on the schedule coming off the weekend we had at Dover that I'd rather go to than Iowa."
Last Saturday at Dover, Sadler dealt with a loose-handling car before he spun around and made contact with the wall on lap 77. He fell seven laps behind due to repairs and ended up finishing 28th. Sadler dropped from fourth to seventh in the point standings. He is currently 64 points behind leader Regan Smith.
"We were caught off guard at Dover," he said. "We struggled the entire weekend, through practice, qualifying and the race. We really have dug ourselves a pretty big hole here. We are a lot of points behind, seventh in the points. Honestly, points don't mean a hill of beans to me right now. We need to run better, be more competitive on a weekly basis.
"I think going to Iowa, we can get some good optimism going with our race team, get some good direction going. We can go there and be competitive and run good. That's what our team needs right now, to kind of get back on the ball, get back in the game. I can't think of a better place to go."
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won three consecutive Nationwide races at Iowa, including a victory here one year ago. Stenhouse is now a rookie contender in the Sprint Cup Series.
Joey Logano is the only Sprint Cup regular scheduled to compete in this race. Logano is attempting the Pocono/Iowa combo this weekend. He claimed his first Nationwide win this season at Dover.
"It's going to be tough for sure, but we have a plan that will help me get as much rest as possible," Logano said of his double-duly effort this weekend. "I'll get a chance to rest and debrief and change on the plane rides between Pocono and Iowa each night."
Logano won the first-ever NASCAR race held at Iowa Speedway in 2007 -- a combination K&N Pro Series East-West event. He has not competed at this track since then.
Forty-one teams are on the preliminary entry list for the DuPont Pioneer 250.
Camping World Truck Series
WinStar World Casino 400 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, Texas
Johnny Sauter is hoping to make it a three-peat at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday night.
Sauter won both Camping World Truck Series races at this fast 1.5-mile racetrack during the 2012 season. Brendan Gaughan is the only driver in the series to win three or more consecutive events here. Gaughan scored a season- sweep in 2002 and '03, becoming the first driver to win four truck races in a row at the same track.
"Texas is fast, and you don't want to be off by the least little bit, but you can say that about any racetrack, because handling is always such a premium," Sauter said. "The bumps are probably the biggest thing that you fight at Texas, but handling is ultimately what wins pretty much every race, so you have to pay real good attention to that."
Sauter stormed out of the gate this season by winning the first two races (Daytona and Martinsville), but the ThorSport Racing driver had a couple of setbacks during the months of April and May.
NASCAR issued severe penalties to Sauter's No. 98 team following the April 20 race at Kansas for an unapproved fuel cell discovered on his truck during opening-day inspection. Sauter and truck owner Mike Curb were both docked 25 points, and crew chief Joe Shear received a four-race suspension and a $10,000 fine.
Sauter finished 28th in the May 17 race at Charlotte after he was involved in an accident late in the event. He dropped from second to sixth in the point standings. But Sauter moved up to fourth in points following his seventh-place run in the May 31 race at Dover.
"We're going to Texas to try and do the best we can, business-as-usual for me and my guys at ThorSport," said Sauter, who is currently 43 points behind leader and teammate Matt Crafton.
Crafton has scored six top-five finishes and 13 top-10s in 24 starts at Texas. He has yet to win here but has finished second three times, most recently in June 2012.
"Texas has actually been one of my favorite racetracks," Crafton said. "It's become a place I really, really love going to. We finished second in the spring race last year, right behind Johnny, and we were right around the top- five in the fall race.
"We've had some really good runs there and have just come up a little bit short of getting to victory lane, so hopefully, we can do that this weekend and get the guns blazing at the end."
Houston-native David Starr will compete in his record-extending 30th straight truck race at Texas. Starr only missed the track's inaugural event in 1997.
Thirty-two teams are entered for the WinStar World Casino 400, which is four short of a full field.
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES
Firestone 550 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, Texas
The IndyCar Series will race at Texas Motor Speedway for the 25th time on Saturday night.
Since 1997, there have been 18 different drivers who have won in 24 IndyCar races at Texas. In fact, the past seven events here have not featured a repeat winner.
One year ago, Justin Wilson scored the victory at Texas after starting 17th in his Dale Coyne Racing car. It marked the lowest starting position for an IndyCar race winner at this 1.5-mile racetrack.
Graham Rahal was on his way to winning last year's race here, but Rahal made contact with the wall while leading with just two laps to go. That allowed second-place runner Wilson to move into the lead and take the checkered flag. It was Wilson's seventh career IndyCar win but his first on an oval.
"It meant a lot, not only with the recognition but in the confidence," Wilson said. "That's the biggest thing, is having the confidence on an oval. I felt like I knew what I was doing, but I still wasn't classed as an oval driver. I was kind of disregarded. From that point on, I felt I had the confidence to go out there. I knew what I was doing, knew what I was trying to achieve with the car in the race."
Wilson has not won a race since then.
Right now, Wilson is seventh in the point standings. He finished fifth in the first oval race this season -- the May 26 Indianapolis 500. This past weekend, Wilson placed third in race 1 of the Detroit dual. He finished 22nd in the second event after being involved in a 10-car crash on lap 28.
The race at Texas will feature a change to the aerodynamic setup of the cars. It will produce slightly less downforce, which likely will increase lap speeds by a few miles per hour. The Firestone tires will have a new compound and left-side construction designed to give the cars slightly more grip.
"It's going to be interesting," Wilson said. "(IndyCar) took the downforce away, made it harder to drive. But that was good, because we weren't flat out. I've been told they've taken even more downforce away, so I think we've lost another 300 pounds. I think that's going to make it challenging again.
"I know Firestone has changed the tire slightly. All the teams have to readjust for that. We're going to be working on our setup, trying to get a good balance. It's having that balance that saves the tires, and you can run longer in the stints. That's what we're looking to do. We did that quite well last year and won. We weren't the quickest car outright, so people would pull away at the start of the stints, but we tried to manage it and be quicker over the full stint."
After winning the Indy 500, Tony Kanaan is wondering if he can make it two- for-two on the ovals this season.
"Why not?," Kanaan said. "I mean, my record (at Texas) is quite good. Last year, we were fighting for the win until I got blocked by Will (Power), and we broke the front wing."
Kanaan won at Texas in June 2004, the same year he won his IndyCar championship.
Helio Castroneves will attempt to win at Texas for a record fourth time. Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr., who is now a full-time competitor in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, have the most IndyCar wins at this track with three each. Castroneves' victories here came in 2004 (October race), '06 and '09.
Twenty-four teams are on the entry list for the Firestone 550.
Canadian Grand Prix - Circuit Gilles Villeneuve - Montreal, Canada
Lewis Hamilton has yet to win a grand prix since joining Mercedes at the start of this season, but this Sunday's race in Canada might very well be where he captures his maiden victory with the team.
Hamilton, who drove for McLaren from 2007-12, has won the Canadian Grand Prix three times in the past six years. Formula One did not compete in Canada during the 2009 season.
The 2.709-mile, 14-turn Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal has been a very special place for Hamilton. In June 2007, he scored his first career F1 victory here, coming in just his sixth start.
One year ago, Hamilton became the record-extending seventh different winner in as many races for the 2012 season. He benefited from a two pit-stop strategy, which allowed him to chase down Ferrari's Fernando Alonso for the lead with fresher tires. Alonso, who pitted only once in the early going, gave up the lead to Hamilton with four laps remaining.
"The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve has been a strong circuit for me, and I've been lucky enough to win there three times in my career, including last season," Hamilton said. "It's always a great weekend in Montreal with a fun atmosphere in the city and at the track. The circuit itself is really special. It's very high-speed, great fun to drive and it's definitely a track where late braking helps."
Hamilton is hoping to give Mercedes its second straight victory after his teammate, Nico Rosberg, won the May 26 Monaco Grand Prix.
"There's a really good feeling in the team at the moment, following Nico's win in Monaco," Hamilton said. "We're continuing to work hard to make sure we have the potential for more victories this season."
Rosberg claimed his second career F1 win in Monaco. He has started on the pole for the last three grand prix.
"Monaco was a fantastic weekend for the team, and I'm so proud of the victory that we achieved there," Rosberg said. "We'll be hoping to maintain that momentum in Canada this weekend and will be going all out for another strong performance."
Rosberg's best finish in Canada is sixth, which came in 2010 and '12.
Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull enters the 70-lap Canadian GP with a 21-point lead over Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen. Vettel, the three-time defending F1 world champion, has yet win in Canada.
In this race two years ago, which featured torrential rain conditions, Vettel appeared to be on his way to victory but locked up the rear and slid wide on the final lap. That allowed McLaren's Jenson Button to dart by and steal the win.
"One of the craziest moments (in the Canadian GP) was in 2011," Vettel said. "There was so much rain. I haven't seen that much rain carry on for so long since. During the race, we had a big break and were in the lead. The race was difficult, and with half a lap to go, I made my first mistake of the race, which cost us the win. But that's racing, and it's probably great for the fans to watch when they don't know who is going to win until the last moment."
Vettel has finished fourth or better, including two victories (Malaysia and Bahrain), in the first six grand prix this season.