This Week in Auto Racing March 14 - 16

This Week in Auto Racing March 14 - 16

<p>Sprint Cup Series</p>

Sprint Cup Series

Food City 500 - Bristol Motor Speedway - Bristol, Tenn.

Three races, three different winners.

The Sprint Cup Series is running at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend, and we could well see a fourth different driver pull into victory lane in as many races this season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski have all but guaranteed themselves a berth in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Earnhardt kicked off the season by winning the Daytona 500. Harvick picked up the victory at Phoenix, and Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, scored the win last weekend at Las Vegas.

Bristol, a 0.533-mile, high-banked oval, is the first short-track race of the season. Several drivers have had a great deal of success here in the past, particularly Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth from Joe Gibbs Racing.

Busch, his elder brother, Kurt, and Jeff Gordon lead all active drivers with five Sprint Cup wins at Bristol. Kyle Busch's most recent victory here came in March 2011. He finished second to Kasey Kahne at this track one year ago.

"I've just had a lot of success there, but I've also had some misfortune there," Busch said. "Ever since I got through my rookie year, I've just taken a liking to the place. Of course, I've been able to get some help from my brother [Kurt]. He's always been really, really good there. But when they changed the track starting at the end of 2007, I just really took to it right away. I really liked it, and I've been fast there, but also I've had great race cars from Joe Gibbs Racing."

Kyle Busch has won 15 NASCAR national touring series races at Bristol, which is more than any other driver in national series history here. He has the most Nationwide Series victories at this track with six, including a season-sweep last year. His four Camping World Truck Series wins at Bristol is tops as well.

Kenseth is a three-time winner at Bristol, including a victory in the most recent race here last August. In the 2013 spring event, He plowed into the back of Gordon after Gordon blew his right-front tire and hit the wall on lap 390. Both drivers were running in the top-two at the time. Kenseth led 85 laps prior to his incident.

"We crashed out late in this race last year, but before that happened, I thought that we had a really great race car all weekend," Kenseth said. "We had such a fast car last spring, as well as last August, and we were fortunate enough to hold on and win the second race."

JGR driver Denny Hamlin won the August 2012 race at Bristol. He led the most laps in last year's spring event with 117 before he dealt with an ill-handling car. Hamlin had a run-in with Joey Logano, his former teammate, in the late going, as he hit Logano from behind and spun him around.

The incident involving Hamlin and Logano led to a post-race altercation between the two and their crew members in the garage area before Hamlin and Logano traded jabs on Twitter.

Jimmie Johnson, the six-time and defending series champion, has only one win at Bristol, which came four years ago. Johnson is hoping to improve on his finishes here after placing 22nd in last year's spring race and then 36th in the night event in August.

"We had a rough race last time at Bristol and got caught up in a wreck," Johnson said. "Bristol is going to be interesting for sure. Everyone is still trying to dial in their cars with the new rule packages. It hasn't been easy this year. We've been working really hard on these cars."

Keselowski won back-to-back races at Bristol from August 2011 to March 2012. He finished third in last year's spring event. Keselowski has finished no worse than third this season. He is currently one point behind leader Earnhardt.

"The weekend at Las Vegas gives us momentum and freedom to race for wins moving forward," Keselowski said. "While I enjoy racing everywhere we go, Bristol is one of those places that standout for most drivers. I have to say that I like the idea of getting our Ford Fusion into Victory Lane this Sunday."

Earnhardt is having his best start to a season in his Cup career. He finished second at Phoenix and Las Vegas. Earnhardt held the lead at Las Vegas until the last lap when he ran out of fuel on the backstretch, allowing Keselowski to slip by him.

Qualifying at Bristol should be quite entertaining this time, with NASCAR's new knockout qualifying format. Earlier this week, NASCAR tweaked the format due to recent safety concerns and issues with teams cooling down their engines.

Teams will be allowed one cool-down unit, connected through either the left- side or right-side hood flap/cowl flap, to cool down the engine. NASCAR has also banned cool-down laps during qualifying.

"I'm glad [NASCAR] made that adjustment," said Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer. "I guess the goal is to create excitement and energy on that racetrack, and how you do that is have cars on there. That's what I didn't like about the cool-down deal. First of all, it was dangerous. There was no question. We're out there running 200 mph, and [drivers on cool-down laps] are running 40 mph. They're not even running. They couldn't get out of the way if they had to.

"Now that you can cool off, I can go out there and make several laps if I need to...I think it will just enhance that entertainment even more."

Though NASCAR has altered the format to make qualifying safer, drivers and teams are uncertain what to expect in qualifying on a short track.

"The new qualifying format is going to be insane," Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards said. "I would say, as a fan, definitely tune into that."

Forty-five teams are on the entry list for the Food City 500.

Nationwide Series

Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 - Bristol Motor Speedway - Bristol, Tenn.

Trevor Bayne is off to a great start in the Nationwide Series this season.

Bayne, who hails from Knoxville, Tenn., comes to Bristol Motor Speedway, his home track, this weekend just three points behind leader Regan Smith. He finished third in the season-opener at Daytona and then seventh at Phoenix before placing eighth at Las Vegas this past weekend.

In 10 Nationwide starts at Bristol, Bayne has scored three top-10 finishes, including a sixth-place run here last August.

"Bristol is one of my favorite tracks, and it's always good to get back in front of my hometown crowd," Bayne said. "It's one of the rare times I get to spend time with family and friends. We have been running consistently this year, and I know we will unload with a fast car for Saturday, so I'm looking forward to it."

Bayne is in his second full season as driver of the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing in Nationwide. He has two career wins in the series, with his most recent victory occurring last June at Iowa.

In 2011, Bayne shocked the racing world by winning the Daytona 500, which happened one day after he turned 20 years old. He is running a partial schedule for Wood Brothers Racing in the Sprint Cup Series this season.

Last November, Bayne announced that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He was cleared by doctors and NASCAR to race.

Of those drivers currently in the top-five in Nationwide points, Elliott Sadler is the only one who has won at Bristol. Sadler claimed the victory in the spring race here two years ago.

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson are those Sprint Cup regulars scheduled to compete in Saturday's 300-lap race at Bristol. Busch scored a season-sweep at this track last year.

Ryan Blaney, a Camping World Truck Series regular, is driving the No. 22 Nationwide car for Team Penske at Bristol. Brad Keselowski drove that car to victory in last weekend's race at Las Vegas.

Forty-two teams are on the entry list for the Drive to Stop Diabetes 300.

FORMULA ONE

Australian Grand Prix - Albert Park Circuit - Melbourne, Australia

After months of preparation and testing, 11 teams and 22 drivers are ready to get the 2014 Formula One season underway with this weekend's Australian Grand Prix.

There's a lot of uncertainty for teams entering the season-opener in Melbourne, and it's anyone's guess as to who will do well and who won't in Sunday's 58-lap race. This season is featuring one of the biggest set of rule changes in the history of F1, especially the technical regulations.

This year's cars are equipped with a new 1.6-liter, V6 turbocharged power unit (engine), which relies heavily on hybrid technology. There's also major alterations to the exterior designs of the cars. Aerodynamic changes have been made to reduce downforce.

Practice took place at Melbourne's Albert Park Circuit on Friday, with Fernando Alonso from Ferrari leading the way in the opening session and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton topping the time charts in the second practice.

During P1, Alonso turned a lap around this 5.303-kilometer (3.3-mile), 16-turn circuit in 1 minute, 31.840 seconds, which was a half-second quicker than his closest competitor, McLaren's Jenson Button, who has won the Australian GP in three of the last five years. Alonso was third in P2, behind the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

"On the first Friday of the season, there's always a bit more tension," Alonso said. "It's the start of a new championship, and there is the feeling of general expectation to see how things we worked on during the winter are functioning. Overall, this was a positive day for us, and even if there was an element of nervousness because of the complexity introduced by the new technical regulations, everything went well. The team did a super job, and we had no problems."

Hamilton, though, had a troubling session in P1, as he stopped on track just after a single lap. The 2008 F1 world champion encountered a faulty oil pressure sensor, which caused a precautionary engine shutdown in his Mercedes. Hamilton bounced back nicely in P2, completing 37 laps. His best lap was clocked in 1:29.625 37.

"It really was a day of two halves [Friday]," Hamilton said. "While it was disappointing to not get any track time this morning, these little hiccups are going to happen with the new cars, and we'll have to get used to that. It felt like I was on the back foot from there, but then we got up to pace quite quickly in P2 and found the balance relatively fast.

"I feel quite comfortable in the car, so overall, it's a positive start, but we need to look at the data now and understand where we are. We got a nice foundation for the weekend in the second session, so hopefully we can build on that in P3 [Saturday] and then see where we are in qualifying."

After a frustrating past few months in pre-season testing in Jerez, Spain and Sakhir, Bahrain, four-time reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, winner of the F1 constructors' title the past four years, had much better results in practice for the Australian GP than it did in testing.

Vettel did not get on track in P1 until nearly one-hour had expired. He recorded just 10 laps during the session, with his best lap in 1:32.793, good for seventh-place. In P2, Vettel significantly increased his track time with 41 laps. He finished fourth in that session (1:30.381).

"In a way, it's a relief today, the fact that we were running, and we didn't have any problems, and the balance was good and the performance looked alright," Vettel said. "In the end, Friday times are not worth a lot, but it's better to be close to the top rather than somewhere towards the back, so I'm very happy with that.

"We will do what we can to prepare for tomorrow and Sunday, but let's see where we are then. The most important thing is that we finish."

Vettel started on the pole and finished third in last year's Australian GP. Kimi Raikkonen, who is back with Ferrari this season, is the defending race winner.

Vettel's new teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, who is the only Australian competing in this year's race, was not too shabby in practice, finishing fifth in P1 and sixth in P2. Ricciardo is taking over Mark Webber's seat at Red Bull following Webber's retirement at the end of last season.

"I think we have to be pretty positive with where we ended up today," Ricciardo said. "Let's see if it's the same story after qualifying tomorrow, but for today, we're pleased."

Page: [[$index + 1]]