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This Week in Auto Racing Oct. 26 - 28

10:36 AM, Oct 25, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Round seven in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship takes place this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. The Camping World Truck Series will also be at Martinsville. Formula One heads to New Delhi for the Indian Grand Prix.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

Tums Fast Relief 500 - Martinsville Speedway - Martinsville, Va.

It's final four time in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway is not only the seventh round in the 10-race Chase but the only short-track event in the postseason as well. Texas (Nov. 4), Phoenix (Nov. 11) and Homestead (Nov. 18) follow Martinsville.

Last weekend, Chase leaders Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson survived a wild race at the newly repaved Kansas Speedway. Keselowski avoided one crash after another during the 400-mile event to finish eighth and remain the points leader. Johnson wrecked midway through the race but miraculously bounced back with a ninth-place run to keep the second spot in the Chase rankings. The point separation between the two remained at seven. Denny Hamlin finished 13th at Kansas and fell 20 markers behind.

"It's pressure time; it's go time," Johnson said. "It's all that stuff with four to go. With the points as tight as they are, we expect to be one of the cars racing for the win."

Johnson, who is seeking his sixth Sprint Cup Series championship, has yet to win a race in this year's Chase. He started the postseason with a pair of second-place finishes -- Chicagoland and New Hampshire. He placed third earlier this month at Charlotte.

"If we can get points on the 11 (Hamlin) and the 2 (Keselowski), especially the 2 at this point, that would be ideal," Johnson noted. "So we're showing up, racing hard, putting in everything we have got, which is to be expected by everybody at this point, and we'll see how things turn out."

Clint Bowyer is currently 25 points behind Keselowski, while Kasey Kahne trails by 30.

Sixth through 12th in the Chase standings are: Martin Truex Jr. (-43), Tony Stewart (-47), Jeff Gordon (-51), Matt Kenseth (-55), Kevin Harvick (-59), Greg Biffle (-62) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-122).

Earnhardt Jr. will return to competition at Martinsville after missing the past two races due to a concussion. He was medically cleared on Tuesday, following numerous neuropsychological evaluations, including a successful test session at the half-mile Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga.

The points leader after the sixth race in the Chase has gone on to win the series championship five of eight times. Last year, Stewart was 19 points behind leader Carl Edwards after the sixth Chase event, but Stewart went on to win at Martinsville, Texas and Homestead to claim the title.

Statistically, Johnson, Hamlin and Gordon have the upper hand at Martinsville. All three drivers have combined for 17 wins there, including seven in the Chase (2004-10).

In 21 races at Martinsville, Johnson has an average finish of 5.8, which is tops among active drivers. He has won six times at this track but has not been to victory lane there since March 2009. He finished second at Martinsville one year ago and 12th there in April.

Hamlin has an average finish of 6.4 in 14 races at Martinsville. He has four victories there, including three in a row from 2009-10. Hamlin placed fifth at Martinsville in last year's Chase race and then sixth there earlier this year.

"The spring race is the one race where we did just not run well," Hamlin said. "We had some setup issues that we found in the car afterwards, and some mistakes that we made with our setup. Basically, putting the wrong pieces in the wrong places. So, that is hopefully why we ran so bad in the spring where we finished decent but not great. Hopefully, that's rectified. Honestly, we look forward to going back, especially as good as our short track program has been in the last few (races)."

Gordon leads all active drivers with seven wins at Martinsville, but the four- time series champion has not posted a victory there since Oct. 2005. His average finish in 39 starts at this track is not too shabby -- 7.1.

"Martinsville is just that kind of place where you get into a rhythm," Gordon said. "And it's important when you get into traffic to maintain that rhythm or get back into it as fast as you possibly can. No other track demands the kind of rhythm needed at Martinsville."

For Keselowski, Martinsville could be a roadblock in his quest for the Sprint Cup title. He has competed there just five times, scoring a pair of top-10 finishes. He placed ninth at Martinsville in the spring.

"Martinsville is just one of those tracks where it seems like there are numerous variables that we've struggled with, and I don't think they're our fault," Keselowski said. "When I look at last year, I think we were running fifth or sixth in the fall and just got caught up in a wreck on a late-race restart caused by somebody who retaliated on the track."

Chevrolet can mathematically clinch its 10th consecutive and 36th overall manufacturers' championship in NASCAR's premier series this weekend at Martinsville. The auto maker presently holds a 22-point lead. Chevrolet will guarantee a clinch if one of its drivers finishes second or better there.

Forty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Tums Fast Relief 500.

Camping World Truck Series

Kroger 200 - Martinsville Speedway - Martinsville, Va.

After taking the past two weeks off, the Camping World Truck Series returns to action on Saturday at Martinsville Speedway.

Rookie Austin Dillon holds only a one-point lead over James Buescher with four races to go. Timothy Peters is 26 points behind, while Parker Kligerman trails by 34.

In March, Dillon competed in a truck race at Martinsville for the first time, as he qualified and finished second. Buescher placed one spot behind Dillon in third.

"We had a really fast truck when we came here in the spring," Dillon said. "The team has grown a lot since the last race at Martinsville. I know we have what it takes to contend for the win."

Dillon has scored top-10 finishes in each of the last five races, including his first win in the series on Aug. 31 at Atlanta.

Buescher leads the series with four wins this season. All of his victories have come at 1.5-mile racetracks -- Chicagoland, Kansas and both races at Kentucky.

"I'm happy that the off-weeks are over, and we can get back to racing," Buescher said. "Martinsville is a tough track to get a hold of. It's a totally different animal. Coming off a top-three the last time we were there, I feel good about going back. I'm just looking to keep track position and keep it up front."

Peters is the only one among the top-four drivers in points that has previously won a truck race at Martinsville. His maiden truck win came at this 0.526-mile track in Oct. 2009.

"It always gives me confidence going back there knowing that I was able to check the win box off my first time there," Peters said.

Peters has finished eighth or better in the last three races at Martinsville.

After finishing a truck race in the runner-up position five times, Kligerman finally became a first-time winner in the series on Oct. 6 at Talladega.

In August, Kligerman was relieved of his driving duties with Brad Keselowski Racing, but he quickly landed a ride with Red Horse Racing, where he has scored five top-10 finishes in seven races.

"I've always considered myself to be 100 percent focused no matter what, but anytime you can go out there and win and walk into the racetrack the next week as the most recent winner, it always gives you a little more pep in your step and a little more confidence," Kligerman said.

Kligerman has finished no better than 11th in his three truck starts at Martinsville.

Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are those Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in this race. Hamlin won the truck event at Martinsville one year ago, and Harvick took the checkered flag there earlier this year.

Forty-two teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Kroger 200.

FORMULA ONE

Indian Grand Prix - Buddh International Circuit - New Delhi, India

Separated by just six points, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso take their Formula One world championship battle to India.

Just four races remain, with Abu Dhabi (Nov. 4), Austin, Texas (Nov. 18) and Brazil (Nov. 25) following the Indian Grand Prix.

Vettel, the two-time defending F1 champion, will attempt to win his fourth consecutive grand prix. Since his retirement in the Sept. 9 Italian Grand Prix due to a mechanical problem, the Red Bull driver has returned to the same winning form he had last year by scoring victories in Singapore, Japan and Korea. He has gained 45 points on Alonso in the past three grand prix.

"The spirit is perfect in the garage, the atmosphere is great and I think we all want to do our best and to really try and win the race on a Sunday," Vettel said. "I think we've been pushing very hard all season. We have tried lots of stuff. Sometimes it was more successful than other times."

Vettel won last year's inaugural Indian GP, doing so in dominating fashion. He started on the pole and led all 60 laps around the newly built 3.192-mile Buddh International Circuit.

"I loved the track layout last year, but not just because I won the race," Vettel said. "With an average speed of 235 kph (146 mph), the course is the second quickest of the year after Monza (Italy). There is a lot of elevation change around the lap, which adds to the fun, from as much as eight percent downhill and up to 10 percent uphill. It's like a roller coaster. It really has emerged as one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar for the drivers."

Alonso has finished third in three of the past five grand prix, but his retirements in Belgium and Japan due to accidents on the opening lap have been costly for the Ferrari driver in his bid to win a third F1 title. Alonso has three victories this season but has not won since the July 22 German Grand Prix.

Can he get back to his winning ways in India, as well as Abu Dhabi, Austin and Brazil?

"We will see." Alonso said. "It will depend obviously on the updates in the car. I think we will see in India if there are any new parts. If there are, we will need to test them. For sure, the other teams will also bring new parts, maybe more than us, so we need to see which of them are working, which of them are not working and for who they work."

Alonso started and finished third in last year's Indian GP. He has yet to win in Abu Dhabi and Brazil. F1 will compete in Austin for the first time this year.

"We just need a little last step to be as competitive as Red Bull, and I think it will be a beautiful last four races to the end," Alonso added.

Narain Karthikeyan from HRT is the only Indian driver currently in F1. Last year, Karthikeyan replaced Vitantonio Liuzzi in the HRT car for the Indian GP only. He finished three laps behind in 17th.

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