This Week in Auto Racing November 11 - 13
Avondale, AZ – With just two races to go, the battle between Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart for the Sprint Cup Series championship heats up this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. The Nationwide Series is also at Phoenix. Formula One runs its penultimate race of the season in Abu Dhabi.
Sprint Cup Series
Kobalt Tools 500 - Phoenix International Raceway - Avondale, AZ
Remember when Tony Stewart famously said on his team radio, "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty. Come get you some of this," while chasing down Kevin Harvick for the lead during the closing laps of the 2007 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, a race that Stewart went on to win.
Right now, Stewart might as well say, "Here, Carl, Carl," in regards to his battle with Carl Edwards for this year's Sprint Cup Series championship. Stewart is just three points behind Edwards with two races to go.
After finishing seventh at Talladega and then winning at Martinsville and Texas, Stewart has gained 21 points on Edwards in the last three races.
Will Stewart's momentum continue this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway?
"It shows what this Chase is going to be about," Stewart said. "It's the perfect storm, so to speak, going into these last two weeks. That's what you want. This is about as exciting as it gets, to have two guys that are down to three points with two weeks ago."
Stewart has four wins so far in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup. He claimed victories in the first two playoff races -- Chicagoland and New Hampshire. Jimmie Johnson is the only other driver with four Chase wins in a season, doing so in 2004, '07 and '09.
This year's fall race at Phoenix should be a very interesting one. The flat one-mile track has been repaved and reconfigured since the series' most recent visit here in February.
Teams are certainly faced with the unknown heading to Phoenix, and this race could really shake up things in the fight for the championship.
"We really think next week at Phoenix has a larger opportunity by a landslide to change the outcome of this Chase," Edwards said. "That one will be a very important race. If Tony and I run 1-2 at Homestead, there's not going to be much points change if we run like we did [last Sunday at Texas], but Phoenix has the potential to be huge."
Several drivers, including Edwards and Stewart, participated in a Goodyear tire test at Phoenix in August. Sprint Cup teams were at this track last month for a two-day test session. Stewart posted the fastest lap overall in testing. No driver has yet to experience racing conditions on the newly paved surface.
"Phoenix is really a big unknown," Edwards said. "I would say this first trip will be more of a crew chief/engineer race. You're going to have to pay attention to tire wear. The setup is going to be very important. The track is very smooth and easy to drive. I don't know that you'll be able to go there and manhandle the car and hustle it around there like you could at the old Phoenix, at least not this first time."
While Edwards and Stewart have now made the Chase a two-man battle, Harvick is a distant third in points (-33), followed by Matt Kenseth (-38) and Brad Keselowski (-49).
Jimmie Johnson's hopes of winning a record-extending sixth straight Sprint Cup championship are all but gone. Johnson is now 55 points behind Edwards. He leads all drivers with four wins at Phoenix.
"From my experience there, I was a part of that first tire test and then the open test," Johnson said. "For whatever reason, if it is the asphalt or the tire, or both, and obviously the dirty air, the wind blowing dirt and being out in the middle of the desert, it takes a long time to burn in a lane that you can adjust to."
"My two times being there, you are chasing one balance of the race car, and then finally the track rubbers up. You have to back all of that out, and then you are finally on the path that you need to be on."
Edwards won last year's fall race at Phoenix. If Edwards or any other Roush Fenway Racing driver wins Sunday's Sprint Cup race or Saturday's Nationwide event here, it will mark team owner Jack Roush's 300th NASCAR victory.
Trevor Bayne gave Roush his 299th win in last Saturday's Nationwide race at Texas.
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Kobalt Tools 500.
Wypall 200 - Phoenix International Raceway - Avondale, AZ
With two races to go, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. holds a 17-point lead over Elliott Sadler. Stenhouse and Sadler are now the only drivers who remain in title contention in the Nationwide Series.
Stenhouse's sixth-place finish coupled with a ninth-place run for Sadler in last Saturday's race at Texas allowed Stenhouse to add two more points to his lead.
"That's good," Stenhouse said. "That's better than where we were when we came [to Texas], and that's really all we can ask for."
As is the case for the Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide teams face a lot of uncertainties this weekend at Phoenix, since the track has recently been repaved and reconfigured.
"It may be one of those races that changes the game in the championship standings, and our team is going to do everything we can to make the right adjustments throughout the weekend to have a solid finish before heading to Homestead," Sadler said.
While the fight for the driver's championship has turned out to be a good one, the battle for the owner's title is even better. Just two points separate Joe Gibbs Racing's No.18 team from Roush Fenway Racing's No.60 team.
Jack Roush, who is on the verge of winning his 300th NASCAR race, leads all team owners with nine Nationwide victories at Phoenix. Carl Edwards, driver of the No.60 Ford for Roush Fenway, has won the last three fall events here.
Edwards is one of four Sprint Cup regulars competing in this race. Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer are the others. Logano is driving the No.18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, which is normally occupied by Kyle Busch, who won at Phoenix in February.
NASCAR has lifted its parking directive against Busch, allowing him to participate in this weekend's races at Phoenix. He was not scheduled to compete in the Nationwide event here.
Last weekend, NASCAR suspended Busch from the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at Texas after he intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. in the Camping World Truck Series event there.
Forty-eight teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Wypall 200.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Yas Marina Circuit - Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Two-time Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel hopes to continue his quest towards a record-winning season in this weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Vettel has already won 11 grand prix this year. If the Red Bull driver can win Sunday in Abu Dhabi and then November 27 in Brazil, he would equal Michael Schumacher's season-record of 13 victories, set in 2004. Vettel is also one pole win away from matching Nigel Mansell's 1992 record of 14 poles in a season.
Last week, Vettel was unstoppable in the inaugural Indian Grand Prix. The 24- year-old German started on the pole and led all 60 laps, finishing 8.4 seconds ahead of his closest competitor, Jenson Button from McLaren. Vettel had one of the most dominating performances in his F1 career.
"The team is enjoying, and we are on a run basically since the beginning of the season, and it is great," Vettel said. "We enjoy every race. The great thing is you walk into the garage every morning, and you see the guys and they are flat out. They are pushing very hard, and there is no sign of getting lazy and not paying attention to detail.
"It is really enjoyable to know that we have already achieved a lot this year, but we are still hungry, so we are not lacking motivation at any stage."
Vettel has won the first two Abu Dhabi Grand Prix -- 2009 and '10.
Last year, Vettel started on the pole and led the way until he pitted on lap 25, allowing Button to take over the top spot. He reclaimed the lead for good after Button made his final pit stop with 15 laps to go.
Vettel entered last year's season-finale at Abu Dhabi 15 points behind Fernando Alonso from Ferrari. Vettel clinched the F1 championship by just four points over Alonso, who struggled throughout the race and finished seventh.
The 3.451-mile (5.554-kilometer) Yas Marina Circuit features nine right turns and 12 left turns. It's one of the few circuits on the current F1 calendar that runs in an anti-clockwise direction. The track has also become one of the most popular among drivers and teams.
"The track in Abu Dhabi is special, and this will be our third grand prix there," Vettel said. "The race starts at dusk and finishes at night, which means we have to drive with special helmet visors because of the different light conditions. The other factor is that we drive anti-clockwise.
"The track's a bit like Singapore from the speed, but the asphalt is smoother. There are two special features. One is the passage under the Yas Hotel, where else can you actually drive under your room. The second is the pit-lane exit, which is also special. It's partly underground, and it feels like you're coming out of an underground parking garage when you drive through it."
FIA officials and race organizers are optimistic this year's Abu Dhabi GP will be a better show than last year's event here. Drivers were critical of limited overtaking opportunities. The circuit recently underwent some minor curbing adjustments, but new technical revisions for the cars this year -- the DRS (Drag Reduction System) and the return of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) -- should make for more passing in the Abu Dhabi GP.
"The race came in for a bit of criticism last year because the cars found it very difficult to overtake," FIA race director Charlie Whiting said. "But there are two DRS zones this year, with two activation points, and they should make a significant difference in that respect."