This Week in Auto Racing Nov. 1 - 3
By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Fort Worth, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Texas Motor Speedway hosts round eight in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. The Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series are also at Texas. Formula One is in Abu Dhabi.
Sprint Cup Series
AAA Texas 500 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, Texas
Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson are neck and neck in their battle for the Sprint Cup Series championship with just three races to go.
Kenseth's second-place run compared to a fifth-place finish for Johnson this past weekend at Martinsville Speedway allowed Kenseth to move into a points tie with Johnson. Both drivers have 2,294 points apiece heading into Sunday's 500-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Despite having the same amount of points, Kenseth is credited with the lead in the point standings by virtue of his series-leading seven wins this season. Johnson has five victories.
This is the first time in series history that two drivers are tied for the points lead with three races remaining. In 1996, Jeff Gordon had only a one- point advantage over Terry Labonte at this point of the season. That was during NASCAR's previous point system (1975-2010). For the start of the 2011 season, NASCAR implemented a one-point per position (43-1) system.
The margin between the first and second-place drivers entering the eighth round in the Chase at Texas has been quite close since the current points format was put in place. Two years ago, Carl Edwards held an eight-point lead over Tony Stewart. Both drivers ended the '11 season in a tie, but Stewart claimed the championship with five wins to Edwards' one.
Last year, Johnson came to Texas with just a two-point margin over Brad Keselowski. Johnson won at Texas, but finished 32nd at Phoenix and then 36th at Homestead. Keselowski went on to capture his first series title.
Phoenix, a one-mile track, is scheduled for Nov. 10, and Homestead, a mile and a half, is slated for Nov. 17.
"A lot can happen in those races," Johnson said. "I think we're going to finish close to each other each week, and it's going to be a mistake, in my opinion, that will separate things at the end of the year. We've just got to be clean and not make any mistakes."
Kenseth's average finish at Texas is 8.5, while Johnson is close behind at 9.1. Kenseth also has led a total of 772 laps in 22 starts at this 1.5-mile racetrack compared to 443 laps in 20 races here for Johnson.
When the series most recently competed at Texas in April, Johnson finished sixth and Kenseth placed 12th.
"I feel like we can race anybody at these next three tracks," Kenseth said. "I feel good about that. Anything can happen, but man, we're in it, and we're going to three really good tracks, so hopefully we can perform here the next three weeks and have a race."
Four of Kenseth's seven wins this year have come at 1.5-mile tracks (Las Vegas, Kansas, Kentucky and Chicagoland).
Kenseth and Johnson have two wins each at Texas. Johnson's victories came in the Chase races here (2007 and last year). Kenseth won the spring events at this track in 2002 and '11.
In the '07 fall race at Texas, Johnson and Kenseth traded the lead three times during the final seven laps. Johnson ended up beating Kenseth to the finish line by just under a second.
"We put on a heck of a show," Johnson recalled. "I was inside of him for many laps. Both of us were sideways and just driving the wheels off the cars. From my standpoint, I think it was an amazing race. I'm sure Matt would agree on most levels, but the results I think he would want differently."
Last week, 10 of the 13 Chase drivers, including Kenseth and Johnson, tested at Texas, in preparation for this weekend's race. Kyle Busch, who won the spring event here, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, who has the most victories at this track with three, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne tested as well.
"Expect the cars that were there to lead the way on the practice sheets and be toward the top of the qualifying order when all that comes down," Johnson said. "That's all very important stuff but, what I'm really excited about after the test session is how much the line has moved around on the racetrack. If we have sunny conditions for the race, we'll have a very, very exciting race."
Kenseth's test here did not go as well as planned. His session was cut short early when he suffered a blown right-front tire and made contact with the wall, causing significant damage to his car. It was not the same car that his Joe Gibbs Racing team plans to use for this race.
"When you run nine laps and one (tire) blows apart for some reason, that's always a cause for concern for sure," Kenseth said.
After scoring his first victory of the season at Martinsville, Gordon moved up from fifth to third in the Chase standings. He is now 27 points out of the lead.
"All we can do is go out and perform at our best and just see what happens," Gordon said. "The nice thing is that we're not doing the points racing right now. We're just going out and just trying to go out and win races and not think about protecting anything. It's just go and give it everything we've got."
Harvick is fourth in points (-28), followed by Kyle Busch (-36), Bowyer (-55), Earnhardt (-56), Biffle (-58) and Kurt Busch (-75).
Tenth through 13th are: Edwards (-76), Joey Logano (-85), Ryan Newman (-106) and Kahne (-124).
Forty-three teams are on the entry list for the AAA Texas 500.
O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, Texas
After having the past two weekends off, the Nationwide Series is set to run its final three races of the season, beginning with Saturday's 300-mile event at Texas Motor Speedway.
The series competed 21 consecutive weeks, with its most recent race on Oct. 11 at Charlotte. Points leader Austin Dillon finished second there and remained eight points ahead of Sam Hornish Jr., who placed third after leading the most laps.
Dillon has been impressive in his first three Nationwide races at Texas, finishing no worse than sixth. The Richard Childress Racing driver had a third-place run here in April. He's also competed in four Camping World Truck Series events at this track, finishing second in the fall 2011 race.
"I really enjoy Texas, and it's one of my favorite tracks," Dillon said. "I've had some success and led a lot of laps there in the Truck Series. I finished third in Nationwide there earlier this year. I've had some good cars there."
Hornish has just two top-10 finishes in seven Nationwide races at Texas -- a pair of seventh-place runs. He has competed in seven Sprint Cup Series races as well as 13 IndyCar Series events at this track. The Penske Racing driver led 29 laps but finished 34th in the spring Nationwide race here. He was involved in an accident with Jeremy Clements in the late going.
"For us, Texas is the perfect place to have a great finish and make up a few points towards the Nationwide Series title," Hornish said.
Dillon, 23, is attempting to become the third youngest champion in NASCAR's second-tier series, behind Brian Vickers (20) and Rob Moroso (21). He's also trying to become the third driver to win a title in both Nationwide and trucks. Greg Biffle and Johnny Benson are those drivers who have accomplished that feat. Dillon, though, has yet to make it into victory lane in a Nationwide race this season.
"I'm trying to win a race," he said. "I haven't won a race this year and feel like we need to."
After Texas, Nationwide heads to Phoenix and then concludes its season at Homestead. Hornish's first win in the series came at Phoenix two years ago. His second victory occurred in March at Las Vegas, which is a 1.5-mile racetrack similar to Texas.
"When I race against Austin, we give each other room, and we race each other hard," Hornish said. "I feel like getting to the end of the year, we're going to run hard for the championship. We're going to race each other with respect and have a good time doing it. We're going to see how the points stack up at the end of it."
Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are those Sprint Cup regulars scheduled to compete in this race.
Busch has the most Nationwide wins at Texas with six, including a victory here in the spring. Hamlin is substituting for Brian Vickers in Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 car. Vickers is out for the rest of this season while taking blood- thinning medication to treat a blood clot. Stenhouse, the 2011 and '12 Nationwide champion, is expected to make his first start in the series this season.
Forty teams are on the entry list for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge.
Camping World Truck Series
WinStar World Casino 350 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, Texas
The Camping World Truck Series kicks off NASCAR's triple-header weekend at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday night.
Despite his season-worst 17th-place finish this past Saturday at Martinsville, Matt Crafton still holds a comfortable 51-point lead in the series. James Buescher, the defending truck champion, finished 10th there and moved up to second in the standings, while Ty Dillon dropped to third in points (-61) following his 22nd-place run.
With 12 laps to go at Martinsville, Dillon hit Kevin Harvick from behind and spun him around, which triggered a four-truck crash. During the caution, both drivers banged fenders in retaliation. Several crew members from Dillon's team then approached Harvick's truck to express their displeasure towards him when he parked in Dillon's pit stall.
On Thursday, NASCAR penalized members of Dillon's No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team for their actions on pit road. Crew member Adam Brown was indefinitely suspended from competition for "throwing an object at a competitor's race truck." Brown threw a hammer at Harvick's truck in the pits. Crew chief Paul (Marcus) Richmond was fined $10,000. According to NASCAR rules, "the crew chief assumes responsibility for the actions of his/her driver, truck owner and team members."
Crafton has yet to win a truck race at Texas, which is a 1.5-mile track. He has 14 top-10 finishes, including a fourth-place run in June, in 25 starts here.
"I definitely like Texas because it's a cool racetrack," Crafton said. "For the majority of the time, we've run really well there. The older the track's gotten the better it's become for us. So hopefully we can keep that momentum going."
Crafton's lone win this season came in April at Kansas, which is also a mile and a half.
Rookie Jeb Burton scored his first win in the Truck Series by taking the spring race at Texas. Burton, who is the 21-year-old son of 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, passed Dillon for the lead following a late-race restart with 24 laps to go and then beat Dillon to the finish line by just 0.14 seconds for his maiden victory in just his 12th start.
"Texas brought several 'firsts' for us," Burton said. "It was my first time at the track, and we got our first win of the season. We're taking a brand new truck this weekend, so we're putting it all out there to get another win. One of my favorite things about this track is running beside the wall. It makes it fun and more competitive."
Thirty-five teams are on the entry list for the WinStar World Casino 350. Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski are those Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in this race.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Yas Marina Circuit -- Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have yet to fully celebrate their fourth successive drivers' and constructors' championships. There's still more things for them to accomplish this season.
At age 26, Vettel became the youngest driver in F1 history to clinch four straight titles. The German did so with a convincing win in last Sunday's Indian Grand Prix. His victory there also allowed Red Bull to wrap up this year's constructors' championship.
There are three races remaining, beginning with this weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
"It was a great relief when I crossed the line on Sunday, a great feeling," Vettel said. "Sunday night, the whole team still had to do the pack-up, but we had a little bit of fun in the hotel bar - quite spontaneous. There's not a lot of time between the race in India and the race here, so the team is very busy. I had two days at home before coming here, again fairly quiet, not very spectacular. I just enjoyed the peace at home. I had some time for myself, back with my girlfriend as well."
Vettel is now chasing another F1 record -- most consecutive victories. India marked his sixth straight win. Michael Schumacher (2004) and Jim Clark (1965) are those drivers who scored seven straight grand prix victories. Alberto Ascari holds the record for most consecutive wins with nine, doing so from the tail end of the 1952 season through the early part of the 1953 season.
This will be the fifth time F1 competes in Abu Dhabi. Vettel won the inaugural race in 2009 and then scored another victory here the following year.
In 2011, Vettel had his lone retirement of the season at Abu Dhabi, where he experienced a tire puncture that caused damage to his car on the opening lap. One year ago, he had to start from the back of the grid but made an amazing comeback to finish third. Vettel had qualified third, but race stewards later disqualified him when they determined there wasn't enough fuel in his car to provide a one-liter sample in post-qualifying scrutineering, as required by the sport's technical regulations.
"I'm not getting in the car and thinking that there's a guarantee that we will do well," he said. "Since the summer break, we've won all the races but we come here and there's absolutely no guarantee that we will do well, so we have to give it everything we have. Yes, we have a strong package, so I think we have reason to be confident."
After Abu Dhabi, F1 heads to Austin, Texas (Nov. 17) and then concludes its season in Sao Paulo, Brazil (Nov. 24).
The Abu Dhabi GP, which starts late in the afternoon and concludes at twilight, is one of the most popular races on the F1 calendar. The 3.451-mile Yas Marina Circuit features nine right turns and 12 left turns. It's one of the few circuits on the current schedule that runs in an anti-clockwise direction.
"Abu Dhabi is one of the highlights of the racing calendar," Vettel said. "Starting at dusk and finishing in the dark makes it pretty impressive. I have special memories of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after winning the first race here in 2009 and then repeating the victory in 2010 to win my first world championship. That was an event I will never forget."
Kimi Raikkonen won last year's Abu Dhabi GP. Raikkonen, the 2007 F1 titleholder, scored his first win in three years. He left Ferrari at the end of the '09 season and then competed in the World Rally Championship as well as a handful of NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races for the next two years before joining Lotus for the 2012 season. He gave Lotus its first victory in the sport since the 1987 United States Grand Prix in Detroit.
11/01 11:15:33 ET