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This Week in Auto Racing July 6 - 8

5:16 PM, Jul 4, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2012 NASCAR season has reached its halfway point, with the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series running at Daytona International Speedway this weekend. IndyCar heads to Toronto, while Formula One travels to Silverstone, England for the British Grand Prix.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

Coke Zero 400 - Daytona International Speedway - Daytona Beach, FL

With the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season reaching its halfway point this weekend at Daytona International Speedway, points and wins are becoming more important in regards to determining the 12-driver field for the championship Chase.

Race wins are especially important in deciding who will start in the first seed for the Chase, as well as who will secure the two wild card positions. All qualifiers begin the playoffs with 2,000 points each. Drivers one through 10 in the rankings are awarded three bonus points per victory. The last two spots in the field -- the wild cards -- will go to the non-top-10-ranked drivers with the most wins, as long as they're ranked in the top 20 in points.

Brad Keselowski claimed his series-high third win of the season last Saturday at Kentucky. Keselowski presently holds the 10th spot in the standings but has a sizeable 34-point advantage over 11th-place Carl Edwards.

"I want to be the guy with the most wins and inside the top-10, and I want to look forward to making sure that we stay inside the top-10, and hopefully can climb up a few more spots to be safe," said Keselowski, who has now earned nine bonus points so far for the Chase.

Teams will once again endure hot and humid conditions at Daytona but not as muggy as last weekend at Kentucky, where air temperatures reached 100 degrees. Temperatures for the Daytona Beach area are expected to be roughly 10 degrees cooler than Kentucky.

Saturday night's 400-mile race at Daytona is expected to be much like we saw earlier this year in the Daytona 500 and the spring event at Talladega. The past two restrictor-plate events featured the return of the traditional pack racing and the reduction of the two-car breakaways.

"I would expect a carbon copy of the Daytona 500," Keselowski said. "The hotter temps certainly require a little more cooling in the engines, so I think that will negate the effect of the bigger pop-off valve. So, I would say I would expect the same thing as the Daytona 500, and the same group of guys will probably be fast, while the same group of guys that were not fast will probably struggle."

Prior to this year's Daytona 500, which ran one day late on February 27 due to rain, NASCAR made numerous modifications to the Sprint Cup cars for Daytona and Talladega, including changes to the restrictor plates and the front grille openings.

Two months ago, teams had to deal with overheating issues with the cars while racing in packs at Talladega, where air temperatures exceeded 90 degrees. Teams will likely face the same problems again this weekend.

"With the race being in July, the cooling isn't going to be better than it was in February, so it will be interesting to find that balance as to how hard you can push the engine and keep yourself in a position to be able to run up front and hopefully win the race," said Kevin Harvick, who won the 2007 Daytona 500 and the 400-miler there in 2010.

Matt Kenseth comes to Daytona not only as the points leader but this year's Daytona 500 winner as well. It's hard to believe, but it has been 30 years since the same driver won both point races at this 2.5-mile superspeedway in the same season. Bobby Allison recorded a season-sweep there in 1982. Fireball Roberts (1962), Cale Yarborough (1968) and LeeRoy Yarbrough (1969) also accomplished the same feat.

Kenseth has been stellar on the restrictor-plate tracks so far this season, winning his second Daytona 500 and nearly pulling off the victory in May at Talladega. His first Daytona 500 win came in 2009.

"I looked forward to going to Talladega more so than any plate race I have ever looked forward to in my career, with as well as we ran at Daytona and how fast our cars were in February," Kenseth said. "I feel the same way about Daytona this weekend, and I am looking forward to getting down there.

"At Talladega, I felt we had the fastest car in the race and dominated the race as much as you can, but I felt like I messed that up at the end when (Roush Fenway Racing teammate) Greg (Biffle) and I somehow got separated. I have been agonizing over that since Talladega, but I am looking forward to getting some redemption this weekend and returning to Daytona coming off that win in the 500."

Kenseth gave Roush Fenway Racing its second straight victory at Daytona five months ago. David Ragan scored his maiden Sprint Cup win at this racetrack one year ago when he drove for RFR. Ragan is now driving for Front Row Motorsports.

Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Coke Zero 400.

Nationwide Series

Subway Jalapeno 250 - Daytona International Speedway - Daytona Beach, FL

The 2012 Nationwide Series season has already featured three first-time race winners, and there could be more on the way, maybe as soon as this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

Last Friday, rookie driver Austin Dillon claimed his first Nationwide victory at Kentucky. Dillon put on a dominating performance by leading all but eight of the 200 laps and crossing the finish line 9.8 seconds ahead of his closest competitor, Kurt Busch. His maiden win in the series came in his 26th start.

Dillon also moved atop the Nationwide point standings, but his lead would be short-lived when NASCAR penalized him with a loss of six points earlier this week for a rules infraction that occurred at Kentucky. The rear of his car was found to be too low during post-race inspection. Instead of holding a two- point lead over Elliott Sadler, Dillon is now four points behind his Richard Childress Racing teammate.

Nelson Piquet Jr., who is a regular in the Camping World Truck Series, became a first-time Nationwide race winner on June 23 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI.

James Buescher, who is Piquet's Nationwide and Truck Series teammate at Turner Motorsports, won his first NASCAR national touring series race in the February 25 Nationwide season-opener at Daytona. Buescher avoided a big wreck on the frontstretch and then miraculously pulled ahead of the field on the final lap before NASCAR displayed the caution flag to end the 300-mile event at Daytona. He was running in the 11th position just before the multi-car wreck occurred.

"Returning to Daytona is special for me and this entire No. 30 team," Buescher said. "We had a great car here in the spring and rolled into victory lane. That is something that everyone on this team is very proud of. To say that we are Daytona champions is something we have all dreamed of."

Who has the potential to become the next first-time winner in Nationwide?

Danica Patrick is certainly a good candidate, especially at Daytona. A win for Patrick would not only be very popular but a historical one as well. Patrick set a record for the highest finishing female in one of NASCAR's top-three series with her fourth-place run in the March 2011 Nationwide event at Las Vegas.

When the series competed at Daytona earlier this year, Patrick became just the second woman to win a pole position for a race. She joined Shawna Robinson, who first did it in March 1994 at Atlanta. Patrick led the first two circuits around the 2.5-mile superspeedway, but on lap 50, she crashed into the wall after her JR Motorsports teammate, Cole Whitt, a rookie this season, bumped her from behind. She ended up finishing 38th, which was her worst result in four Nationwide starts at Daytona.

Patrick placed 10th one year ago at Daytona, sliding across the finish line during a last-lap crash on the frontstretch. She led a Nationwide career-high 13 laps in that race.

"I'm just glad I can go to a place like Daytona in a stock car and have it be a place where I run competitively and run well," Patrick said. "I think for me at this point, Daytona is the first track that I'm going to have a good opportunity at. It's pack racing. It's very fast. You don't lift off the throttle, and it's also the most like IndyCar racing. That is what IndyCar racing is like at anything bigger than one mile."

Joey Logano won the July 2011 Nationwide race at Daytona. Logano leads the series with five victories this season. He is expected to make his 100th career start in Nationwide on Friday night.

Logano is one of six Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in this race. Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski are the others.

Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Subway Jalapeno 250.

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES

Honda Indy Toronto - Streets of Toronto - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The IZOD IndyCar Series will re-introduce the overtake assist feature -- the push to pass -- for the remaining five road/street races on the 2012 schedule, beginning this weekend at Toronto.

Introduced to IndyCar in 2009, the push to pass allows a driver to add turbocharger boost and additional RPM with the press of a button, located on the steering wheel, to complete a pass.

The additional boost is added for a pre-determined amount of time, which is set by IndyCar race officials for each road/street course. It will be 100 seconds for the scheduled 85-lap race on the 1.75-mile, 11-turn Toronto street circuit.

Push to pass will be disabled for practice and Saturday's qualifying session but will be re-enabled for Sunday's warm-up session and race.

"It's going to be very interesting, with that push to pass, how much power are we actually going to get, said Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Dario Franchitti. "I know the numbers of boost, but how much will it actually translate on track, I think there's going to be quite a big difference. That, combined with the fact that you are now allowed to defend again this year, is going to make for some pretty interesting racing, and I think it will definitely liven things up a little bit."

Franchitti is the defending race winner at Toronto. He also won the 2009 IndyCar race there. His victory on this course came in the 1999 Champ Car event.

"I've always loved racing in Toronto," Franchitti said. "I think it started off in 1997 when I was driving for Carl Hogan and had a pretty good start there, getting my first pole position. I've always enjoyed the track and the challenge of the bumpy surface and the multiple surface changes there."

After finishing 25th at Iowa, Franchitti dropped to eighth in the point standings. The three-time defending series champion is now 70 points behind leader Will Power from Team Penske. Franchitti claimed the pole at Iowa but blew an engine during the pace laps, which put him out of the race before the green flag waved.

Ryan Hunter-Reay from Andretti Autosport is the hottest driver in IndyCar right now. Hunter-Reay scored back-to-back victories at Milwaukee and Iowa. He is just three points behind Power. Prior to Milwaukee, he was sitting seventh in the rankings and trailed the leader by 75 points.

"It all comes down to consistency, and that's how championships are won," Hunter-Reay said. "We have to be consistent. We have to go week in and week out and be consistently strong and be within the top-five, for sure, every weekend and certainly the Penske team will and the Ganassi guys and also some wild cards will show up on a lot of these street and road courses. So we have to be good there."

Hunter-Reay has finished third in the last two races at Toronto.

Power won there in 2010, but last year, he finished 24th after Franchitti made contact and spun him around during the mid-stages of the race. Franchitti was originally assessed a drive-through penalty for the contact, but his team successfully appealed the penalty moments later.

Twenty-five teams are on the entry list for the Honda Indy Toronto.

FORMULA ONE

British Grand Prix - Silverstone Circuit - Silverstone, England

Fernando Alonso has a third Formula One world championship in mind right now.

Alonso, the 2005 and '06 world champion, became the first repeat winner in F1 this season with a come-from-behind victory last month in the European Grand Prix in Valencia Spain. The Ferrari driver started way back in 11th, but to the delight of his home crowd on hand, he grabbed the lead from Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel just past the halfway point and took control from there in the 57-lap race. Vettel, who had won the European GP the past two years, stalled on the track due to a mechanical issue and was forced to retire.

Alonso claimed his 29th career F1 win, but this victory was perhaps his most memorable one.

"I think from the emotional side this is the best one," he said. "The emotions that I felt on the in-lap or during the podium ceremony, I think it doesn't compare to anything before."

His first victory this year came in the March 25 Malaysian Grand Prix. The season had featured a record seven different winners in as many races.

After winning the European GP, Alonso moved atop the championship standings. He has accumulated 111 points so far, which is 20 points more than his closest competitor, Mark Webber from Red Bull. Lewis Hamilton came to Valencia first in the rankings but the McLaren driver fell 23 markers out of the lead after finishing 19th. Vettel dropped to 26 behind following his 21st-place result.

This weekend's British Grand Prix in Silverstone, England will be round nine on the 2012 calendar. Alonso is the defending winner of this event. The British GP is the oldest race on the F1 schedule, but there has not been a back-to-back winner in it since David Coulthard did it in 1999 and 2000.

Silverstone Circuit, located in Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire, England, has been considered as the fastest circuit on the F1 schedule since the mid-1980s, due to its high-speed corners.

"It's a great place to race," said Lotus driver and 2007 British GP winner Kimi Raikkonen. "When I first raced there it was my real favorite. It's so fast and demanding, which makes it very challenging. The corners really flow, and it's all about long, sweeping high-speed corners and high downforce levels. Somehow, it has been a good circuit for me since the very beginning. It will be interesting to see how the new section changes a lap, but I'm sure I'll learn it very quickly."

The British GP is a homecoming event of sorts for many F1 teams. Eight of the 12 teams -- Red Bull, McLaren, Lotus, Mercedes, Williams, Force India, Caterham and Marussia -- are all based in the United Kingdom.

"Racing in Silverstone is a special moment every year," Mercedes driver and three-time British GP winner Michael Schumacher said. "It's quite simply the home of motorsports, and I'm always amazed by the knowledge and enthusiasm of the British fans. As a racing driver, it's great to experience this passion for our sport."

Schumacher's third-place finish in the European GP marked his first podium appearance since coming out of retirement in 2010. Schumacher, the record seven-time F1 champion, took a three-year break from the sport following the '06 season.

"We want to take the momentum from our result in Valencia and put on a good show in Silverstone, especially because this is one of our home races," he added. "It goes without saying that we want to give everybody in Brackley and Brixworth (England) a result to be proud of this weekend."

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