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This Week in Auto Racing April 12 - 14

3:48 PM, Apr 11, 2013   |    comments
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Fort Worth, TX (Sports Network) - All three of NASCAR's national touring series are in action this weekend. The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are racing at Texas Motor Speedway, while the Camping World Truck Series is running at Rockingham Speedway. The Formula One season resumes with the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

NRA 500 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, Texas

The Sprint Cup Series will run its first nighttime (points-paying) race of the season this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. NASCAR's new race car, the Gen-6, will also return to intermediate track competition.

After winning last Sunday's race at Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson reclaimed the points lead, as he holds a six-point advantage over defending series champion Brad Keselowski. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 12 points behind Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

Johnson became the first repeat winner of the season. He won the Feb. 24 Daytona 500. Johnson also took the checkered flag for the most recent Sprint Cup race at Texas five months ago. Can the five-time series champion pick up another victory there on Saturday night?

"I feel good about it," Johnson said. "We ran really well at Vegas, and California didn't go as well as we wanted, but it's a much different racetrack than what we have at Texas. I would say that Texas and Vegas are closer together than Texas and California. We'll go there and see. We're still learning this car on the big tracks. At Fontana, we were certainly trying some things, and are smarter leaving there, and I know that these guys (No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team) will work hard and give me a great car this coming race."

Texas is the second 1.5-mile track on the schedule this year, following Las Vegas (March 10). The series will run at another mile and a half, Kansas, on April 21.

With the Gen-6, Texas will likely feature this season's fastest non- restrictor-plate lap times. The track qualifying record here is 196.235 mph, set by Brian Vickers in November 2006. Sprint Cup teams tested at Texas on Thursday to get more familiar with the new car here.

"The surface (at Texas) is a little bit older than places like Charlotte, Michigan and Kansas," Johnson noted. "I think you will see a lot of four-tire calls and that could make a difference in the race. It's a fast track, and it's going to be challenging to keep the car underneath you and not get yourself in trouble. I really like the track. I think it's really going to be another great race."

Greg Biffle won last year's spring race at Texas, adding to Roush Fenway Racing's dominance here. Jack Roush has the most car owner victories at this track with nine, compared to four wins for Rick Hendrick and three for Joe Gibbs.

Carl Edwards, who drives the No. 99 Ford for Roush, leads all drivers with three Sprint Cup victories at Texas. He won both races here during the 2008 season. Last month, Edwards snapped a two-year, 70-race winless streak in the series at Phoenix.

"I love racing at Texas, because everything about the race track is fun," Edwards said. "We're hoping for our second win of the season and fourth at Texas. It's going to be a tough one on the crew chiefs and engineers to get these cars perfect in the nighttime conditions, because we don't get to practice like that. It's going to be a tough race from start to finish."

Five different Roush Fenway drivers have won at Texas: Biffle, Edwards, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin. Biffle, Burton and Kenseth have two victories each here.

"I attribute it to good teams, good drivers and communication with equipment," Biffle said. "Teams will get on to setups. Maybe their race cars cater to this type of racetrack a little bit better. I've had a lot of success here. We are sharing that information, so Carl (Edwards) has that setup. Carl has won here, so we copied his setup. We learn together as a group, and I think it helps us as an organization to be strong at particular race tracks."

Brian Vickers will drive the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in relief of the injured Denny Hamlin. Vickers, a Nationwide Series regular this season, is also scheduled to be in the car at Kansas and Richmond (April 27). Mark Martin drove the No. 11 to a 10th-place finish at Martinsville. Hamlin continues to recover from a compression fracture in his lower back due to an accident on the final lap in the March 24 race in Fontana, Calif.

Forty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for the NRA 500.

Nationwide Series

O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, Texas

After a two-week break, the Nationwide Series resumes its schedule on Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

Kyle Busch has been the hottest driver in the series this season, winning three of the last four races, including the previous two (Bristol and California). Busch, a Sprint Cup Series regular, is behind the wheel of the No. 54 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in Nationwide this season. Last year, he did not score a victory in NASCAR's second-tier series while driving for his own team.

Most of Busch's record 54 victories in Nationwide have come with JGR. He won five races in a row at Texas from 2008-10. Busch also has victories in the Camping World Truck Series at this track but has yet to win a Sprint Cup event here.

"The Nationwide Series wins the last several years and getting the win in the Truck Series the last couple of years have been real confidence-boosters there," Busch said. "I've sort of learned how to drive it a little bit better, and I know what I need in my race car to make it easier. The cars that JGR has given me since I joined the team have also been a confidence-booster there."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Busch are those full-time Sprint Cup competitors scheduled for this race.

Harvick also has five Nationwide wins at Texas. The Richard Childress Racing driver led 127 of 200 laps in his victory here last November.

"We just had a good handling race car, and we were able to get the track position and take control of the race," Harvick said. "Our car was really good on the long run, so if we could hold off the cars behind us for eight or 10 laps, we knew we were going to be good, because the car was so strong as the run went on. Hopefully, we can do that again this race."

Sam Hornish Jr. presently holds a 28-point lead in the Nationwide standings. Hornish won at Las Vegas, a 1.5-mile racetrack similar to Texas, one month ago. He is the only driver in the series with top-10 finishes in each of the first five races this season.

"It feels great to know that we have a legitimate shot at winning every weekend," said Hornish, who finished second in the most recent race on March 23 in Fontana, Calif. "We are having a good time, and I am ready to race."

Hornish has finished seventh in two of the last three Nationwide races at Texas. He won an IndyCar event at this track three times (2001, '02 and '07).

Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300.

Camping World Truck Series

North Carolina Education Lottery 200 - Rockingham Speedway - Rockingham, N.C.

Johnny Sauter could make Camping World Truck Series history this weekend at Rockingham Speedway.

Sauter has started the 2013 season with a bang, posting victories in the Feb. 22 race at Daytona and last Saturday's event at Martinsville. He joined Mark Martin as the only drivers in the series to win the first two races of the year. Martin accomplished the feat in 2006. No driver has begun the season with three straight victories.

"This is great to start the year off with two in a row," Sauter said after his win at Martinsville. "We still have 20 races left, and there's a lot that can happen. We need to keep focused and take it all in stride."

This will be the second time the Truck Series competes at Rockingham Speedway. Sauter finished fourth in the inaugural race at this one-mile track last year.

Sauter enters Sunday's 200-mile event at Rockingham with a 12-point lead over rookie Jeb Burton, who is the only other driver with top-five finishes in the first two races this season (fifth at Daytona and third at Martinsville). Matt Crafton, who is Sauter's teammate at ThorSport Racing, is 17 points behind.

Joey Logano is the lone Sprint Cup regular entered in this race. Logano will drive the No. 19 Ford for Brad Keselowski Racing. He is Keselowski's teammate at Penske Racing.

This will be Logano's second career start in trucks. He made his series debut in October 2008 at Talladega, where he started sixth and finished 26th after being involved in a multi-truck wreck. In that same year, Logano ran his first race at Rockingham. He won an ARCA Series event there after starting on the pole and leading 257 of 312 laps.

"I've always wanted to run more NASCAR Camping World Truck races, and to be able to get back in a truck at a place like Rockingham is awesome," Logano said. "I watched that race last year on TV, and I was so jealous of the guys that were out there racing. Rockingham is one of the coolest tracks around. I've run a lot of testing laps around there in Cup cars and Nationwide cars, so I feel like I know what it takes. It should be a blast to get out there and race with the Truck Series regulars."

Kasey Kahne won last year's truck race at Rockingham, driving an entry for Turner Scott Motorsports. Kahne is not competing in this year's event there.

Forty-two teams are on the preliminary entry list for the North Carolina Education Lottery 200.

FORMULA ONE

Chinese Grand Prix - Shanghai International Circuit - Shanghai, China

The current relationship between Red Bull teammates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber is the center of attention heading into this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix -- the third round on the 2013 Formula One calendar.

Emotions are still high between Vettel and Webber following their altercation in last month's Malaysian Grand Prix. Vettel, the three-time defending F1 world champion, won in Malaysia after a controversial pass on Webber in the late stages. After the race, Webber had heated words with his teammate, claiming he disobeyed team orders.

Vettel has apologized to Webber and the team but continues to defend his actions in the race. The young German has repeatedly said that he did not understand the "Multi 21" message (team order not to overtake Webber) that was issued over his radio.

"I personally don't consider myself as the bad guy in this situation, as I don't think that I did something that in particular could be rated as bad," Vettel said. "I think I said more-or-less everything after the (Malaysian) race, and I apologized to the team, which was important to me. I also took the opportunity to visit the team and explain to them personally what had happened from my point of view."

Vettel and Webber have been at odds with each other in the past, but after Malaysia, their association has sunk to an all-time low.

"I do respect (Webber) a lot as a racing driver," Vettel admitted. "But I also think there have been a few occasions in the past where he could have chosen to help the team, but he didn't."

There had been speculation that Webber might depart Red Bull in wake of the incident in Malaysia. However, the Australian said on Thursday that he has no plans of leaving the team this season.

"I'm definitely keen to race this year and put together a very strong campaign and challenge for more wins," said Webber, who finished second in Malaysia. "In the summer, I will talk to (Red Bull top boss) Dietrich (Mateschitz) and then go from there. If I'm driving well, performances are good, then we'll make some decisions in the future. But at the moment, it's the third race, and I've never made decisions on my career at this point in the season.

"Obviously, it's a bit of a topic at the moment for different reasons, but I don't see why I should make any decisions at the moment for the future."

Both drivers are hoping to put their latest episode behind them and focus on Sunday's 56-lap Chinese GP at Shanghai International Circuit. Vettel enters the race with a nine-point lead over Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen, who won the March 17 season-opener in Melbourne, Australia. Webber is 14 points behind Vettel.

"In Malaysia, there was plenty of interest from everyone, other teams, media etc, but for me, it's not an unusual situation, and I'm looking forward to racing here (in China) this weekend and getting on with it," Webber said. "When you're at the front in Formula One, there's always stuff going down, so it just depends on how much is going down that you've got to manage.

"In the end, for me, I'm looking forward to driving the car here, putting in first gear and driving out of the garage and getting down there to feel what the car is like on the circuit. That's what I'm looking forward to."

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