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This Week in Auto Racing Nov. 2 - 4

12:02 PM, Nov 1, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The eighth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship highlights NASCAR's triple-header weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Formula One heads to Abu Dhabi.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

AAA Texas 500 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, Texas

Jimmie Johnson is in control with three races remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

After winning last Sunday's 500-lap race at Martinsville, Johnson took a two- point lead over Brad Keselowski, who finished sixth. Keselowski held a seven- point advantage over Johnson heading into Martinsville.

Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway is round eight in the 10-race Chase. Phoenix (Nov. 11) and Homestead (Nov. 18) follow Texas.

Even though Johnson's win at Martinsville came later than any of his other first Chase wins during a season, the five-time Sprint Cup champion is the only driver to score a victory in each of the nine Chases. NASCAR began its playoff format for its premier series in 2004.

Can Johnson continue his winning momentum and increase his points lead over Keselowski at Texas?

"Texas is a total opposite from a setup standpoint than what we had (at Martinsville), demands on the car, the way you drive," Johnson said. "We'll take whatever mental momentum and confidence that (Martinsville) brought us, but we have to go to work again this week, and it's a whole new battle.

"We'll do more of the same. We have to be the best to be the champions. I think we're showing we're in form and ready to do that."

Johnson, who drives the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, has one win and 13 top-10 finishes in 18 races at Texas. His average finish at this 1.5-mile racetrack is 9.7.

"I see a good opportunity, and I know we'll have a fast race car," he said. "Our mile and a half stuff has been very strong. We finished second (at Texas) in the spring. So from a performance standpoint, we're ready to show up there and race."

Johnson's win at Texas came in Nov. 2007. It was his third consecutive victory during the '07 Chase. He went on to win the following week at Phoenix to extend his streak.

The last time Johnson won back-to-back point races was in June 2010 -- Sonoma (Calif.) and New Hampshire.

By no means is Keselowski concerned about losing the points lead with three races to go. This year, Keselowski and his No. 2 Penske Racing team have found success at tracks where it had normally eluded them. He has matched or bettered his previous finish at 15 different tracks.

"When you have a team like we have, it's easy to stay calm in the face of adversity," Keselowski said. "We all have each other's back. We like our role is in this Chase. While we aren't being overlooked by any means, there are many who think that we are still too young of a team to seriously challenge (Johnson's) team. We like it that way. In reality, we are a very good race team that is primed to take this fight right down to the last lap at Homestead-Miami Speedway."

Keselowski has yet to post a top-10 finish in eight races at Texas, with his best run there 14th, which came in April 2010. His worst finish there of 36th came earlier this year.

"I'm very confident in our abilities at Texas this weekend," he said. "The mile-and-a-half tracks have been really good to us this year. We had an awesome car in April at Texas, probably the best car I've ever had there. But fuel issues kept us from challenging for the win. This weekend, I'm expecting to challenge for the win."

Clint Bowyer is 26 points behind Johnson, while Johnson's teammate, Kasey Kahne, trails by 29. Bowyer won at Charlotte and then finished sixth at Kansas before placing fifth at Martinsville.

"All I can do is worry about running well and putting ourselves in position to win races every week," Bowyer said. "Bad luck is not something I can really wish upon the other guys in front of us or even worry about. We are going to need some help from the other guys to stay in this deal."

Kahne moved from fifth to fourth in the Chase rankings after his third-place run at Martinsville. He has one win at Texas, which came in April 2006.

"I still feel like I have a chance because of the way the points are," Kahne said. "We definitely still have a shot, but we're a ways out. I wish we were within 20 or 15 (points). I think we'd be a lot more legit at that point."

Fifth through 12th in Chase points right now are: Denny Hamlin (-49), Jeff Gordon (-54), Martin Truex Jr. (-63), Matt Kenseth (-65), Greg Biffle (-69), Tony Stewart (-71), Kevin Harvick (-88) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-140).

Stewart won at Texas one year ago, and Biffle took the checkered flag there earlier this season.

No member in the Chase field has been mathematically eliminated from the championship yet, but any driver who is 97 points or more out of the lead following Texas will be out of title contention.

Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the AAA Texas 500.

Nationwide Series

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

After taking last week off, the Nationwide Series will run its final three races of the season, beginning with Saturday's 300-mile event at Texas Motor Speedway.

Elliott Sadler currently holds a six-point lead over Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the defending Nationwide champion, and a 26-point advantage over rookie Austin Dillon, who is Sadler's teammate at Richard Childress Racing.

Stenhouse won the Oct. 20 race at Kansas after he miraculously bounced back from an accident with pole sitter Joey Logano and then a two-lap deficit during the mid-stages of the event. Stenhouse has won six races this season. Five of those victories have come on 1.5-mile racetracks -- Las Vegas (March 10), Texas (April 13), Atlanta (Sept. 1), Chicagoland (Sept. 15) and Kansas.

"We're taking our Chicago car that we won with back to Texas," Stenhouse said. "We're going to take our setup that we won with at Texas earlier in the year on that race car, so we feel like we'll have a good showing at Texas."

Two of the last three races will be contested on the mile and a half tracks -- Texas and Homestead (Nov. 17). Phoenix (Nov. 10) is one mile in length.

Sadler has performed well on the mile and a halves this year as well. He won the July 22 race at Chicagoland and finished third at both Las Vegas and Charlotte (Oct. 12). Sadler placed 12th at Texas earlier this season.

"We had a pretty good run there in the spring, but a bad vibration toward the end of the race hurt our chances," Sadler said. "I've had success at Texas in the past, including a win in the Sprint Cup Series in 2004, so I'd love to add a Nationwide Series win to it this weekend. Every race, every point is important as we head into the final stretch."

Dillon's average finish of 4.8 on the 1.5-mile tracks this year is tops among the top-three drivers in points. His average starting position of 2.8 at those tracks is also the best among them. Dillon started on the pole and won both Kentucky races this season. He finished fifth at Texas in April.

"We're still in this championship hunt, but it is so hard to gain points in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, because the top competitors finish so close to each other each week," Dillon said. "You never know what is going to happen coming down to the last three races on the schedule, but I can say for sure that our No. 3 team will be giving 110 percent."

Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman are those Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in this race. This will be Newman's first Nationwide event of the season. He is driving the No. 30 Chevrolet for Turner Motorsports. His last appearance in the series came in Feb. 2011 at Phoenix.

Forty-seven teams are on the preliminary 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 will kick off NASCAR's triple-header weekend at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday.

Texas, Phoenix (Nov. 9) and Homestead (Nov. 16) are the remaining races on this year's truck schedule.

James Buescher's sixth-place finish coupled with a 28th-place run for rookie Ty Dillon last Saturday at Martinsville allowed Buescher to take a 21-point lead over Dillon.

Buescher, who hails from nearby Plano, Texas, is hoping for a better finish at his home track after placing 15th and 19th in his past two races there. All four of his truck wins this season have come at 1.5-mile racetracks -- Kansas, Chicagoland and both Kentucky races.

Could Texas be win No. 5 for him?

"I'm looking forward to this weekend," Buescher said. "I thought we had a shot to win the summer race there earlier this year and just got taken out with 30 laps to go leading the race. It's a place that we always have a lot of speed at, and our team tends to do pretty well at the mile and a halves. I'd say that's why we have four wins already on mile and a halves this year."

Buescher's best finish in seven truck races at Texas is sixth, which occurred in the spring and fall events in 2010.

"It would definitely mean a lot to me to be able to win in front of my hometown crowd," he said. "It's a racetrack that I've been going to since it opened, and it means a lot to me. It's where I got started in racing. I've spent a lot of time there, and all my family and friends will be there."

Dillon entered the Martinsville race with a one-point lead over Buescher, but late in the event, Dillon suffered a flat right-front tire and made contact with the wall, putting him six laps behind after making multiple pit stops for repairs. His worst finish of the season came in the second Martinsville race.

"We have to focus on the next race and do our best to win," Dillon said. "I'm not thinking about Phoenix or Homestead. I'm just thinking about what we have to do in Texas this weekend."

Dillon finished third in his first truck start at Texas one year ago. He placed seventh there in June.

Timothy Peters is currently 25 points behind Buescher, while Parker Kligerman trails by 36 points.

Aric Almirola and Kyle Busch are those Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in this race. Busch is entered in all three NASCAR national touring series events at Texas this weekend.

Thirty-seven teams are on the preliminary entry list for the WinStar World Casino 350.

FORMULA ONE

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Yas Marina Circuit - Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Two-time defending Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel will attempt to win his fifth consecutive grand prix this weekend in Abu Dhabi.

Vettel's winning streak began on Sept. 23 in Singapore. The Red Bull driver then claimed victories in Japan, Korea and India. It's the first time the young German has won four straight F1 races in his career.

"It's pretty amazing," Vettel said. "It's very hard to target those kind of things. I think they either happen, or they don't happen. I think the secret, if there is any, is that we didn't approach the first of those four races thinking we can win four. We focused on the first one, then on the second one, then on the third one, then on the fourth one."

Vettel also led every lap in Japan, Korea and India. It's the first time a driver has led all laps in three straight F1 events since Ayrton Senna did it in 1989.

Prior to Singapore, Vettel trailed Fernando Alonso from Ferrari by 39 points. Vettel is now 13 points ahead of Alonso, as three races remain. Austin, Texas (Nov. 18) and Brazil (Nov. 25) follow Abu Dhabi.

Alonso has remained very much in the title hunt with podium appearances in four of the last five grand prix. The Spaniard finished second to Vettel in India. His title hopes, though, took a big hit in Japan, where he was forced to retire after crashing on the opening lap.

"I think we need to bring some new parts to Abu Dhabi, hopefully improve a little bit more then competitiveness of the car, try to be a little bit closer to Red Bulls on Saturday and hopefully on Sunday," Alonso said. With three races remaining, the championship is the main target, so we need to recover some points. It will be nice to finish in front of Sebastian in Abu Dhabi, whatever the position it is. If we can win the race, it will be even better."

If Vettel can win on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, he would become the sixth different driver in F1 history to win five or more grand prix in a row. Michael Schumacher was the last driver to accomplish that feat in 2004, winning the first five races of the season and then scoring seven victories in a row from May-August.

Abu Dhabi, which has become one of the most popular grand prix on the current F1 calendar, has been a special place for Vettel. He won the inaugural race there in 2009. The following year, Vettel not only won at Abu Dhabi for the second straight time but clinched his first F1 world championship there as well, as he ended the season just four points ahead of Alonso.

"In just three years, the race has grown to be one of the highlights of the season," Vettel said. "Starting at dusk and finishing in the dark makes it something unique and impressive. I have special memories of the circuit. I won there in 2009 and then repeated the victory in 2010 to win my first world championship, so it's an event I will never forget. The circuit itself is impressive."

Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen, Mark Webber from Red Bull and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton are the only other drivers who remain mathematically eligible for this year's championship. Raikkonen is presently 67 points behind Vettel, while Webber trails his teammate by 73. Hamilton, who won last year's race in Abu Dhabi, is 75 points out of the lead.

The 3.451-mile Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi features nine right turns and 12 left turns. It's one of the few circuits on the F1 calendar that runs in an anti-clockwise direction.

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