This Week in Auto Racing April 27 - 29
Philadelphia, PA (My Sportsbook) - The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series will race under the lights at Richmond International Raceway, while the IZOD IndyCar Series will travel to South America to run on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Sprint Cup Series
Capital City 400 - Richmond International Raceway - Richmond, VA
After the last two Sprint Cup Series races have run at a record pace due to limited cautions, Saturday night's 400-lapper at Richmond International Raceway might be more action-packed than what we've been seeing lately.
Many races held so far this season have featured a low number of cautions, particularly the night event at Texas earlier this month and last Sunday's race at Kansas. The first 100 laps at Texas featured two cautions for debris before the remaining 234 laps ran under green. Kansas was slowed twice for debris and once for a single-car incident involving Clint Bowyer.
Last month, California featured only one caution -- for rain -- on lap 125. The rain intensified after four laps under caution, forcing NASCAR to halt the race 71 laps away from its scheduled distance. NACAR called it shortly after, with Tony Stewart picking up the win.
Bristol was somewhat of a lackluster race as well. A seven-car crash occurred in the early going, but the remainder of the event ran relatively incident free.
The recent low number of yellow flags has generated criticism from fans. Some competitors like five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson have also joined in the latest NASCAR debate. Earlier this week, Johnson posted on his Twitter account, "It seems like crashing to most is more important [than] racing." He also tweeted, "I'm happy to see many just want better racing and not cautions. Believe me, we are all hustling out there."
Johnson has since learned that fans really want more cautions in order to bunch the field up and create more side-by-side racing after restarts.
"I was having some fun [Monday], just trying to see what the opinions were," he said during a teleconference on Tuesday. "There are a lot of comments about how few cautions we've had over the last couple weeks on the mile and a halfs. So I sent out a conversation stimulating thought.
And I was pleasantly surprised the majority weren't after the wreck. They just wanted things bunched up at the side-by-side racing. Still it's a slippery slope and tough to understand, because we go to some tracks that were known for crashes, like Bristol, and we run side by side, lap after lap, and that doesn't win the fan appeal as well."
Known as "The Action Track," Richmond, a 0.75-mile racetrack, might provide fans with something they haven't seen in a while -- a lot of cautions.
"I love short tracks first of all and think we need more," Johnson said. "Short tracks I think really draw the fans and create the excitement that we need in the sport."
After winning at Kansas, Denny Hamlin returns to his home track with a lot of momentum. Hamlin, who hails from nearby Chesterfield, VA, claimed his second victory of the season. His first win came in February at Phoenix. He is currently fifth in the point standings.
If Hamlin wins at Richmond, it would be just the second time he has scored back-to-back victories. He won the Pocono and Michigan races in consecutive weeks in June 2010.
"I love going to Richmond, but anytime you can go after winning the previous week, it makes it a little more exciting," said Hamlin, whose 19th career Cup victory came at Kansas.
Hamlin is a two-time Richmond winner, with his victories there coming in the 2009 and '10 fall races.
Kyle Busch, who is Hamlin's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, has won the last three spring events at Richmond. Busch is currently 13th in points. His most recent Sprint Cup victory came last August (21 races ago).
"Denny and I really feed off each other an awful lot in Richmond," Busch said. "We use each other a ton there just to be sure we can beat the rest of the competition. We do similar setups there, unlike other mile-and-a-half tracks or two-mile tracks where we don't run very similar setups. Richmond is one of those places where we both know what it takes to get around, and we're both similar to one another that we both run well."
Busch led a total of 226 laps in the 2010 spring race at Richmond. He ran in front for 235 laps in last year's event there.
Greg Biffle enters this race with a 15-point lead over Martin Truex Jr. Biffle's Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth, is 17 points behind, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. trails by 21 markers.
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Capital City 400.
Virginia 529 College Savings 250 - Richmond Int'l Raceway - Richmond, VA
Travis Pastrana's long-awaited debut in the Nationwide Series is expected to take place in Friday night's race at Richmond International Raceway.
Pastrana, a worldwide action sports icon, will drive the No. 99 Toyota for RAB Racing. Last week, RAB formed an alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing, with the Robby Benton-owned No. 09 car becoming the 99.
Originally scheduled to make his first series start last July at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Pastrana suffered a broken right ankle and foot during an accident in the X-Games just days before the Indianapolis race. His injuries forced the delay of his Nationwide debut until this year.
Pastrana is scheduled to compete in at least seven Nationwide races this season. After Richmond, he is slated for Darlington (May 11), Charlotte (May 26), New Hampshire (July 14), Chicagoland (July 22), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 28) and Atlanta (September 1).
"I'm looking forward to getting in that car in the first race," Pastrana said. "After the first race, we'll know a lot more where we sit. We'll know where to improve on, and hopefully, we'll make up all the laps. My goal is to stay and be on that lead lap in the end. If we can do that and not crash, it would really set a lot of confidence for me going into the next round."
Pastrana has already competed in two NASCAR K&N Pro Series East races this year. He is entered in Thursday's K&N event at Richmond.
Ryan Blaney is also expected to make his first Nationwide start this weekend. Blaney, the 18-year-old son of NASCAR veteran Dave Blaney, will be behind the wheel of the No. 36 Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing. His father is currently driving the No. 36 entry for TBR in the Sprint Cup Series.
"[Richmond] has always been a good track for Tommy Baldwin Racing," Ryan Blaney said. My dad has always run good there in past years, and I really like the place. I loved the place when we ran K&N there last year. I'm really excited to go back there in the K&N and make my first [Nationwide] start there."
In four starts in the K&N Pro Series East and West, Blaney has one win, which came last November at Phoenix, a second-place finish and two other top-10 runs. He is also competing in the K&N race at Richmond.
Steve Wallace will make his return to Nationwide at Richmond, driving the No. 4 Chevrolet. His father, Rusty Wallace, is listed as the car owner. Steve lost his ride in Nationwide after last season when Rusty Wallace Racing ceased operations.
Denny Hamlin is the defending race winner. Hamlin is one of seven Sprint Cup regulars competing in this event. Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and J.J. Yeley are the others.
Harvick and Mark Martin share the record for most Nationwide wins at Richmond with five.
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Virginia 529 College Savings 250.
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES
Sao Paulo Indy 300 - Streets of Sao Paulo - Sao Paulo, Brazil
With three IZOD IndyCar Series races completed this season, Team Penske is 3-0 in both race victories and pole wins.
When the series kicked off its season on the last weekend in March in St. Petersburg, FL, Will Power claimed the pole, while his teammate, Helio Castroneves, scored the race win. One week later in Birmingham, AL, Castroneves won the pole, but Power took the checkered flag after starting in the ninth position.
Earlier this month, Ryan Briscoe won the pole and Power qualified second in Long Beach, CA, but both drivers were among the 11 Chevrolet entrants who received a 10-grid position penalty due to an engine change. Power started the race in 12th but put on an impressive performance to capture his second straight victory.
Power moved atop the point standings after winning in Long Beach. He presently holds a 24-point lead over Castroneves.
"I think whenever you're winning, the whole team feels very good," Power said. "I think my guys feel very confident no matter where we start now, that it's always possible. I think that's good for them."
The series now heads to Sao Paulo, Brazil for the fourth road/street course race of the season.
Power has won the first two IndyCar races on the streets of Sao Paulo. He started on the pole for last year's event there.
After winning at St. Petersburg, Castroneves finished third at Birmingham and then had a disappointing 13th-place run at Long Beach.
"Unfortunately, the last race we had a little bit of issues with traffic and incidents, but we want to continue carrying this good momentum with the team, especially here in my hometown of Brazil," Castroneves said. "Certainly, there is a lot of hype, and there is a lot of excitement for this race. Everybody is really pumped."
Castroneves is one of four Brazilians competing in this race. Ana Beatriz, Rubens Barrichello and Tony Kanaan are the others.
Barrichello, who is in the midst of his IndyCar rookie season after a 19-year career in Formula One, started on the pole for the Brazilian Grand Prix (F1 race) in 2003, '04 and '09. His best finish in the Brazilian GP is third, which came in '04.
Beatriz will make her first start in the series this season. She drove the No. 24 car for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing last year. Beatriz will be behind the wheel of the No. 25 entry for Andretti Autosport in Brazil.
The 2.6-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit in Sao Paulo has been fine- tuned for this year. Circuit designer Tony Cotman noted that the painted turn one runoff, which became a skating rink when wet last year, has been addressed along with a "pretty significant" bump in the transition from the concrete surface of the Anhembi Sambodromo to the asphalt leading into turn one.
"The layout of the track has not changed and the curbs have not changed," Cotman said. "Reducing some of the bumps was among the goals that have been addressed. Also, drainage in five or six locations has been addressed. Now that it's all done, we hope we don't need it."
Rain has been a major factor in the two previous events in Sao Paulo.
When the series held its inaugural race there in 2010, IndyCar officials placed a two-hour limit on the scheduled 75-lap event due to numerous cautions and a brief halt for a thunderstorm that moved over the area. Furthermore, qualifying was postponed to the morning of the race after slippery concrete and very bumpy conditions led to unsafe driving conditions.
IndyCar had to spend an extra day in the South American country last year. Under treacherous rain conditions, 14 laps were completed on Sunday, with most of them under caution for numerous incidents. A multi-car pileup occurred in the first turn of the opening lap. Continuing precipitation and standing water later forced officials to scrub the remainder of the time-restricted race until the following day.
Twenty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Sao Paulo Indy 300.
April 26, 2012, at 01:34 PM ET
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