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This Week in Auto Racing July 28 - 29

11:38 PM, Jul 25, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After taking a week off, the Sprint Cup Series returns to action this weekend with one of its most prestigious races of the season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Nationwide Series will compete at IMS for the first time. And Formula One is on the road again with the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

Crown Royal/Brickyard 400 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Indianapolis, IN

Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart feels right at home when NASCAR makes its annual pilgrimage to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Stewart, who hails from nearby Columbus, Ind., is a two-time winner of the 400-mile race at Indianapolis. His victories there came in 2005, the same season he captured his second series championship, and '07. Stewart has performed exceptionally well at this famed 2.5-mile racetrack, finishing outside the top-20 only once in his previous 13 starts. He finished 23rd in the 2008 race.

The week leading up to the Brickyard 400 is generally a busy week for Stewart in his home state, but he and his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team will have some downtime before Sunday's race.

"The schedule this week is actually a little bit lighter than normal," Stewart said. "We don't do anything at the speedway until Saturday. So it kind of gives us one of those days back a little bit to rest, and I'm going to take full advantage of Friday and watch the Silver Crown cars (at nearby Lucas Oil Raceway) and the Grand-Am race (at IMS) this weekend before we get started on Saturday."

With seven races remaining in the regular season, Stewart is virtually assured of making the 12-driver field for this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He is currently seventh in the standings, 51-points ahead of 11th-place Carl Edwards. But Stewart's three wins so far this year should be good enough for him to qualify for the playoffs.

Therefore, Stewart doesn't feel a need to take any calculated risks to make the Chase.

"We have not talked about strategy yet, and I think the biggest thing for us right now, even though it's a big weekend, this is one battle in the war, and the war is to try to win a championship at the end of the season," he said. "To do that, we have got to beat the system.

"So I don't think an all-or-nothing attitude is the approach we are going to have this week. We definitely have that luxury to do that with the three wins that we've got, but I think right now, in the big picture, we are trying to get the consistency the best we can, and I would like to see us put together some consistent runs before the Chase actually starts."

Since this is his home race, does Stewart feel more pressure to win at Indianapolis than any other racetrack?

"I don't," he replied. "I like to win no matter where we're at. It's fun to win here at home. It's always fun to win at Indianapolis, because it does mean a lot to me to win there. Probably the best part is we have so many friends and family that get to come up to the Brickyard. That makes the days even that much better.

"As far as putting pressure on ourselves, I don't think we really do that anymore. As time has gone on, I think after we won that first one in 2005, it's just taken a huge weight off our shoulders on that side, and just go at it every year with the attitude that we know what it takes to win there, and we try to do our best to accomplish it."

Ryan Newman, who is Stewart's teammate, and David Stremme also hail from the "Hoosier State." Newman and Stremme grew up in South Bend.

"The history of the sport, the history of motorsports at the speedway is something I have always appreciated, and I look forward to trying to add my name to that record book," said Newman, who is currently 14th in points.

Newman has only one top-10 finish in 11 starts at Indianapolis. He placed fourth there during his 2002 rookie season.

Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon was born in Vallejo, Calif. but grew up near IMS in Pittsboro, Ind. Gordon holds the record for most Sprint Cup victories at Indy with four. He won the inaugural race there in 1994. His other wins at this track came in 1998, 2001 and '04. He finished second in last year's race.

"Growing up here and going to the track numerous times as a kid, there is just something special about each trip here," said Gordon, who has competed in all 18 previous races at Indy. "But that special feeling changes quickly when I get out on the track, because this place is so challenging."

The 400-miler at Indianapolis is arguably the second most prestigious race on the Sprint Cup schedule -- the Daytona 500 being the first.

Three drivers have won the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same year. Dale Jarrett first did it in 1994. Jimmie Johnson accomplished the feat in 2006, and Jamie McMurray did so in 2010.

Matt Kenseth won this year's Daytona 500. Kenseth comes to Indianapolis as the points leader. His best finish in 12 races at this track is second, which came in 2003 and '06.

"I really feel like Indy is the second biggest race of the year, and everyone wants to have the chance to be able to win that race, win the trophy and kiss the bricks there," Kenseth said. "Indy is one of the most unique tracks that we visit on the circuit. With our time on track there being so limited without any testing and just a few practices, you really just unload and try to get up to speed on things as soon as you can to tune in your car."

Last year, Paul Menard became the first driver to score his first career Sprint Cup win at Indianapolis. Menard gambled on fuel late in the race. He passed McMurray for the lead with four laps to go and then fended off a challenge from Gordon during the last couple of laps for his maiden victory in his 167th NASCAR big league start.

"We were fortunate enough to win the race last year and kiss the bricks, and like to do that again, for sure," Menard said. "We have to get better as a team. We are sitting 15th in points, lost a few spots last week (at New Hampshire), but in order to contend for race wins, we have got to get better, and we all understand that, and we are all working hard towards it."

Forty-seven teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard.

Nationwide Series

Indy 250 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Indianapolis, IN

Danica Patrick raced in the Indianapolis 500 each year from 2005-11. Now she's set to compete in a stock car race at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time.

After running at nearby Lucas Oil Raceway (formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park and O'Reilly Raceway Park) for the past 30 years, the Nationwide Series will make its debut at the Brickyard this weekend.

Nationwide teams will practice there throughout the day on Thursday. The 250- mile race is slated for Saturday, with qualifying to be held earlier that day.

Patrick is in her first full-season in NASCAR's second-tier series, driving the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. She is presently ninth in the point standings, with only one top-10 finish (eighth at Texas). Patrick is also running a limited Sprint Cup Series schedule this season. There had been speculation earlier this year that she would add Indianapolis to her Sprint Cup calendar, but recently, she announced that Kansas Speedway would complete her 10-race schedule for 2012.

"I'm looking forward to driving in a stock car at Indianapolis," Patrick said. "It's obviously going to be a little slower than an Indy Car. But I have such good memories, and I feel so good when I come into the track and just see the facility. I think those good emotions, those positive emotions, a lot of times can translate to a good weekend, so I look forward to that.

"I look forward to seeing the fans from Indianapolis. My parents and sister live there now. It should be a fun weekend, and I look forward to the experience in a stock car."

Patrick has the distinction of being the only female to lead in the Indy 500. She is also the highest finishing woman in that event's history. Patrick placed third in the 2009 race. She finished in the top-10 in six of her seven Indy 500 starts.

When Patrick races at IMS this weekend, she will be at the helm of a 3,450- pound stock car rather than a much lighter Indy car, which weighs roughly 1,525 pounds.

"In an Indy car, there's no lifting, and it's right around the bottom of the track, and it's a big high-speed chess match out there with cars running very close to each other," she said. "In a stock car, you run a more traditional line, and there's lifting. Perspective-wise, they definitely have a different feel, based on the lines that you run. In an Indy car, you sit so low. That happens everywhere I go when I've been there in an Indy car and a stock car. It's always just a little bit different."

Patrick recently made some laps around the 2.5-mile oval in a stock car. She took ABC News correspondent and long-time television news anchor Katie Couric for a ride in a two-seated version of a stock car.

"It feels really good to be at the track," Patrick said earlier this month when she was at Indy. "I enjoyed the laps that I made out there. I really enjoyed coming out of turn four and coming down the front straightaway and seeing everything again."

Couric interviewed Patrick at IMS for an upcoming segment on her new daytime TV talk show, which is set to debut later this year.

Indianapolis is the third of four consecutive "Dash 4 Cash" races in Nationwide. Elliott Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett are those eligible for the $100,000 bonus from series title sponsor Nationwide Insurance. Rookie Austin Dillon collected the cash award with his third-place run in the July 14 event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, while Sadler claimed the bonus with his victory in last Sunday's race at Chicagoland Speedway. Next week's event at Iowa Speedway is the final D4C round this year.

Forty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for the inaugural Indy 250. Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Paul Menard, the 2011 Brickyard 400 winner, are those Sprint Cup regulars scheduled to compete in the Nationwide race at Indianapolis.

FORMULA ONE

Hungarian Grand Prix - Hungaroring - Budapest, Hungary

Fernando Alonso has emerged as the favorite to win this year's Formula One world championship after winning his third grand prix of the season last Sunday in Hockenheim, Germany.

Alonso had a superb performance in the German Grand Prix, starting on the pole and relinquishing the lead just briefly when he pitted for the first time in the 67-lap event. The Ferrari driver fought off challenges from Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and McLaren's Jenson Button in the closing laps to claim his 30th career F1 win.

Vettel crossed the finish line in second but was later demoted to fifth place when race stewards penalized him with 20 seconds on his finishing time for illegally passing Button at the exit of the hairpin on the penultimate lap. Button was elevated from third place to second.

With the win, Alonso padded his lead in the championship standings. The Spaniard has now accumulated 154 points for the season, which is 34 more than his closest competitor, Mark Webber from Red Bull. Vettel, the two-time defending F1 titleholder, is 44 points behind.

Alonso won back-to-back championships from 2005-06, driving for Renault at the time.

F1 travels to Budapest this week for the Hungarian Grand Prix before taking a month-long summer break in August. The schedule will resume with the September 2 Belgian Grand Prix.

Alonso is hoping to win his 31st F1 grand prix on Sunday, which ironically is the day he celebrates his 31st birthday.

"In Hungary, we need to make a perfect preparation and qualifying again," Alonso said. "You can be starting in 12th or 13th if you make a little mistake, so we need to approach the race in the same way we did the last couple of races. We'll try to maximize what we have in Hungary and hopefully bring in some new parts that can help us in that circuit."

Alonso won the March 25 Malaysian Grand Prix and the June 24 European Grand Prix before Germany. Prior to the start of the season, it looked as though Alonso would be a long shot for the title since Ferrari endured numerous performance and reliability issues with its cars during pre-season testing. Ferrari has apparently figured out those problems.

"I think at the moment the car seems okay in all areas," Alonso said. "There are not any weak points, as maybe we had at the beginning of the season. We were suffering a little bit on traction and top speed. Now, I think that we are okay on that. In Hungary, I think with these slow speed corners, traction, etc., I don't see any problem with the car, and we should be competitive there."

Alonso's first F1 win came in the 2003 Hungarian GP. He finished third in this event last year.

Button is the defending race winner. His victory there came in his 200th grand prix start.

"Hungary is a very special place for me," Button said. "I won my first grand prix there back in 2006. I celebrated my 200th grand prix there on the Saturday evening (last year) with some of my oldest friends and colleagues in the paddock, and I went on to win the Grand Prix on Sunday. It was the perfect weekend."

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