This Week in Auto Racing July 11 - 13
By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Loudon, NH (SportsNetwork.com) - The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, while the Camping World Truck Series is running at Iowa Speedway this weekend. The IndyCar Series is competing at Iowa as well.
Sprint Cup Series
Camping World RV Sales 301 - New Hampshire Motor Speedway - Loudon, N.H.
After winning last Sunday's rain-shortened race at Daytona, Aric Almirola became the 11th different driver to virtually guarantee himself a position in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Eight races remain before the Chase begins, and five spots are up for grabs.
This year, NASCAR has expanded the Chase field to 16. The top-15 drivers with the most wins during the 26-race regular season will become eligible for the playoffs, provided they have finished in the top-30 in points. The 16th and final position will go to the driver who is the highest in points without a victory.
Jimmie Johnson is currently atop NASCAR's Chase grid by virtue of his three wins. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick are ranked 2-6, respectively, on the grid with two victories each. Jeff Gordon (7th), Kyle Busch (8th), Denny Hamlin (9th), Almirola (10th) and Kurt Busch (11th) have one win apiece.
Sitting fifth in the point standings, Matt Kenseth is the highest-ranked driver who has yet to win this season. Kenseth is 12th on the Chase grid, followed by Ryan Newman (eighth in points), Paul Menard (10th), Clint Bowyer (12th) and rookie Austin Dillon (13th).
Those who are presently outside of the 16-member Chase grid include: Greg Biffle (15th in the point standings), Brian Vickers (16th), rookie Kyle Larson (17th), Kasey Kahne (18th), Marcos Ambrose (19th) and Tony Stewart (20th).
The Sprint Cup Series is racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend. This 1.058-mile flat track has featured 12 different winners in the past 12 races.
Vickers won here one year ago. Several weeks after his victory, he was named the full-time driver of the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing for the 2014 Sprint Cup season. He ran a partial schedule for MWR in the series during the 2012-13 seasons. His team tested at this track on July 1-2.
"We had a great test up there [at New Hampshire] last week," Vickers said. "I know a lot of other teams tested there as well. It's not going to be easy, but I think we're definitely capable of winning again. It would be a great place to have a repeat win and lock ourselves into the Chase."
Vickers is coming off a second-place finish at Daytona. With wet weather curtailing the race there by 48 laps (120 miles), many drivers, including Vickers, were disappointed that NASCAR called the event early (mid-afternoon) and did not attempt to resume it later at nighttime.
"It was pretty disappointing," Vickers said. "I think that we've had a string of some tough races after a really good start to the season. So just having the solid finish probably has a lot of value. We were more happy about that. We were pleased, but we were not satisfied. We wanted to win. When you're that close and you can taste it, you want to fight for it."
Kenseth had the most victories in the series last year with seven. His most recent win came in September at New Hampshire (the second race in the Chase). He finished ninth in the July race here.
Before joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, Kenseth struggled somewhat at New Hampshire.
"New Hampshire has probably been one of my worst tracks statistically over the last eight or nine years, up until last year," Kenseth said. "Last year, I thought we ran pretty well in both of our races there and of course we were able to win the fall race where I thought our car handled pretty good overall.
"It's just one of those tracks where you have to turn good in the corner and still be able to get off the corner. It's about keeping up your middle of the corner momentum the best you can, which is typical of any flat or short track."
Jeff Burton holds the record for most Sprint Cup wins at New Hampshire with four. Burton is scheduled to make his second start of the season this weekend, driving the No. 66 Toyota for MWR and Jay Robinson Racing.
Kurt Busch, Gordon, Johnson, Newman and Stewart have the second most wins at this track with three each.
Newman's most recent victory in the series came in the 2013 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis (34 races ago). He is in his first season with Richard Childress Racing after driving for Stewart-Haas Racing from 2009-13.
"If you look at my resume, you can't argue about my chances at Loudon [New Hampshire]," Newman said. "My first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win came there [2002 rookie season]. It's a place where I have the most wins in my career. Loudon is the place where I believe I can score my first victory with RCR and the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet team."
In 2011, SHR scored a season-sweep at New Hampshire, with Newman winning the July race and Stewart taking the checkered flag in the September event.
"Every race at Loudon seems to be a pretty good race," Stewart said. "I enjoy racing there even though it is hard to pass. But when you've got a good car, it's always fun to race."
Forty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Camping World RV Sales 301.
Sta-Green 200 - New Hampshire Motor Speedway - Loudon, N.H.
The "Dash 4 Cash" is on in the Nationwide Series this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The top-four finishing series regulars (points-eligible drivers in Nationwide) in last Friday's race at Daytona qualified for the first round in this year's four-race bonus program from Nationwide Insurance, which is the title sponsor of NASCAR's second-tier series.
Those drivers who qualified for New Hampshire based on their finishes at Daytona include: Regan Smith (second-place finish), Ryan Sieg (third), Ryan Reed (fourth) and Jeremy Clements (eighth). All four drivers are first-time participants in the Dash 4 Cash. Sieg and Reed are rookies in the series this year.
The highest finisher among those four at New Hampshire will collect a $100,000 bonus. That person as well as the next three highest-finishing series regulars here will qualify for the second round, which is scheduled for July 19 at Chicagoland. The final two Dash 4 Cash races this year are Indianapolis (July 26) and Iowa (Aug. 2).
"Being part of the Dash 4 Cash program is really cool," Smith said. "We missed out on it last year, and it was disappointing because I really wanted to be in the running for $100,000. It's exciting. Nationwide does a great job promoting our series, and the Dash 4 Cash adds a whole other level. As competitors, we all want to win, but this definitely puts a larger spotlight on these next four races."
Smith, who drives the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, is currently atop the Nationwide point standings. He holds a 12-point lead over Elliott Sadler and a 15-point advantage over rookie Chase Elliott, his teammate at JRM.
Smith placed eighth in last year's Nationwide race at New Hampshire, which marked his first top-10 finish in three starts at this track.
"New Hampshire can be a tricky place to get your car setup properly," he said. "Sometimes the flat tracks are more challenging than others because you don't have the banking that we're used to. We came out of there with an eighth-place finish last year, and I'm certain our team can improve on that this time around."
Reed and Sieg have yet to compete in a Nationwide race at New Hampshire. Clements' best finish here in three starts is 17th (2012).
If one drivers wins the Dash 4 Cash bonus at New Hampshire, Chicagoland and Indianapolis and then scores the victory in the Iowa race, that person will be awarded an additional $600,000, bring the total payout to $1 million.
Forty-one teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Sta-Green 200. Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Paul Menard are those Sprint Cup Series regulars scheduled to compete in this race. Busch has won four of the last five Nationwide events at this track (2009, '10, '11 and '13).
Camping World Truck Series
American Ethanol 200 - Iowa Speedway - Newton, Iowa
The Camping World Truck Series
The Camping World Truck Series returns to action on Friday night at Iowa Speedway.
Iowa hosts only one truck race this season after holding two events here during the 2012 and '13 seasons -- first race in July and the second in September.
Timothy Peters is the only driver with multiple truck victories at this track, having won the July race the past two years.
In last year's race, Peters overtook Ty Dillon for the lead following a restart with 27 laps to go. He capitalized on pit strategy late in the race when he changed just two tires during his last stop. Peters held off Erik Jones in the closing laps, beating him to the finish line by only 0.225 seconds.
Peters started on the pole and led a total of 87 laps to win here two years ago.
"I love going to Iowa," said Peters, who drives the No. 17 Toyota for Red Horse Racing. "We were able to win the July race there last year, and our goal is to go back and do that again. It's a fun track to visit. The trophy sure is cool, and the fans are great."
Two weeks ago, Peters finished fourth at Kentucky and moved to within 11 points of leader Johnny Sauter.
"Finishing fourth at Kentucky was great for our team, and every weekend we are learning a little more," he said. "We gained some ground in points, and we're heading to Iowa with some great momentum."
Matt Crafton, the defending series champion and July 2011 race winner at Iowa, is currently eight points behind Sauter, his ThorSport Racing teammate.
Thirty-eight teams are on the preliminary entry list for the American Ethanol 200.
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES
Iowa Corn Indy 300 - Iowa Speedway - Newton, Iowa
The IndyCar Series is running at its shortest track on the schedule -- Iowa Speedway -- this weekend.
Measuring seven-eighths of a mile, this track has been on the IndyCar calendar each year since 2007.
Andretti Autosport has won five of the seven races at Iowa, including the last four (Tony Kanaan 2010, Marco Andretti 2011, Ryan Hunter-Reay 2012 and James Hinchcliffe 2013).
Team Penske has yet to win an IndyCar race here but has scored three poles at this track.
Right now, all three Penske drivers are in the top-four in IndyCar points. Helio Castroneves took advantage of a double points weekend at Pocono Raceway to tie teammate Will Power atop the point standings with a second-place finish. Power, though, leads Castroneves by virtue of the wins tiebreaker.
Simon Pagenaud from Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports is third in the rankings (-44).
Juan Pablo Montoya won at Pocono, scoring his first victory in a North American open-wheel race since September 2000 (CART event at Gateway International Raceway). He moved up to fourth in points (-55).
Montoya, who spent the past 13 years competing in Formula One and NASCAR before joining IndyCar full-time this season, has scored the most points in the series over the last six races. The Team Penske driver has finished seventh or better in the previous four events, including three podium appearances.
"I know there were a lot of people that thought I would be able to come into the Verizon IndyCar Series and win right away, but they didn't realize how different the cars are to what I had been driving and what the cars were like in this series when I was first competing in it," Montoya said. "I feel really good about the strategy we had for this season, and how we gradually built it up over time. Now we are peaking at the right time to push for the championship."
Iowa will be Montoya's first open-wheel race on a short track since qualifying first and finishing 12th at Chicago Motor Speedway in July 2000. He has tested at Phoenix International Raceway and at Iowa in preparation for Saturday night's 300-lap race here as well as the Aug. 17 event at The Milwaukee Mile.
Castroneves is one of four drivers who has competed in all seven IndyCar races at Iowa. Scott Dixon, Andretti and Kanaan are the others. Castroneves has recorded six top-10 finishes at this track, with his best finish of second occurring in 2010.
"Iowa Speedway is a rush," Castroneves said. "You can really feel the speed because it is such a short track, but it has enough banking that you are basically flat out the entire time. But with the track being so small you have to really stay alert because you are in traffic a lot. One slip and you can easily find yourself behind the wall losing a lot of points.
"Team Penske has not yet won a race at Iowa Speedway, but we've had fast cars. I feel like this could be the weekend."
Power came to Pocono with a 39-point advantage. He led 69 laps but ended up finishing 10th after he received a drive-through penalty for blocking Castroneves late in the race. Power has struggled at Iowa lately, finishing 17th, 21st and 23rd in the last three races.
"We definitely have a bit of work to do this weekend," Power said. "The short ovals are probably the weakest part of my game. We ran really strong at Milwaukee last year, so I hope we are turning a corner with that part of the program. I'm happy for everyone at Team Penske - two cars tied at the top [of the point standings] and all three in the top-four. This is not a time to panic. We still have a lot of racing to go."
Twenty-two teams are entered in the Iowa Corn Indy 300.
07/10 22:29:01 ET