This Week in Auto Racing June 1 - 3
By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - All three of NASCAR's national touring series -- Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck -- will be at Dover International Speedway this weekend. The IZOD IndyCar Series will return to Detroit for the first time in four years.
Sprint Cup Series
FedEx 400 - Dover International Speedway - Dover, DE
Five years have passed since Martin Truex Jr. recorded his first and only win so far in the Sprint Cup Series.
Truex, who hails from Mayetta, NJ, won the 2007 spring race at Dover International Speedway, which is his home track. It's been 179 races since then, but Truex is optimistic his lengthy drought will come to an end soon, maybe as soon as this weekend when the series runs at Dover.
Currently sixth in the point standings, Truex has been impressive in his third year as driver of the No. 56 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing. He's had four top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the first 12 races this season.
In April, Truex put on a dominating performance at Kansas Speedway by leading 173 of 267 laps, but Denny Hamlin passed him for the lead with 31 laps remaining and then held it for the win. Truex finished second.
Truex has finished in the top-10 at Dover just two times since his win there. He has won the pole for two of the last four races at this one-mile racetrack.
"Going back there this year with the race cars that we've got, with the team I have behind me, and they've done such a great job all year long, I really do feel like that's probably the next track where we have a real shot to get back to victory lane," Truex said. "I'm always excited to go up there. We did the tire test there a few months ago and had a really fast car there too. I always look forward to it but definitely more this year with the race cars we have and the team that we've got right now."
Truex drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc./Earnhardt Ganassi Racing from 2004-09 before moving over to Michael Waltrip's team. He made his first appearance in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in '07, finishing 11th in points. Right now, Truex has a good chance of becoming the first driver from MWR to make the Chase field.
"I love this team," he said. "I love the direction we're going, and hopefully, we'll just have to see how everything lines up. My heart is with the team, and that's where I want to be. I feel like we've come a long, long way. We've worked very, very hard to get to where we are."
Waltrip made a crew chief change with Truex's team at the halfway point of the 2011 season, as Chad Johnston replaced Rodney Childers. Johnston has been very instrumental in the team's turnaround.
"It's fun to come to the racetrack every weekend feeling like you have a chance to go out there and do great things," Truex said. "That obviously is because of my team and the job they've done this year. I feel like we can go anywhere and be competitive and run up front."
Truex has also benefited from Clint Bowyer and long-time veteran Mark Martin joining Waltrip's team this year. Bowyer is presently 12th in the standings, as he trails 10th-place Carl Edwards by just six points. Martin, at age 53, is running a limited schedule this season. He started on the pole at Phoenix and Richmond and finished third at Texas.
Martin is entered in Sunday's 400-mile race at Dover. He leads all active drivers with 51 starts there. Martin has four race wins and four poles at this track.
His first start at Dover came on May 16, 1982. In a 500-mile race, which took four hours and nine minutes to complete, the 23-year-old rookie driver started seventh in the 32-car field and finished fifth (four laps behind winner Bobby Allison).
A lot has changed at Dover since then, particularly the track surface and the race length. The original asphalt surface was concreted in the mid-1990s, and the race distance was trimmed from 500 miles to 400 in the mid-90s as well.
"I remember going there in 1982 and remember how much fun it was to drive," Martin recalled. "It was a better place to race on when it was asphalt, which is true for all tracks. On asphalt, you can slip and slide the car around more than you can on concrete. But Dover is so awesome that even in concrete it is good.
"Now, if I was the track owner, then everyone of my tracks would be concrete, so I wouldn't have to repave it every 10 years."
Matt Kenseth won last year's spring race at Dover. Kenseth capitalized on a two-tire pit strategy during the last round of pit stops.
Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards dominated most of the race by combining for 324 of 400 laps led. But Johnson and Edwards took four tires each on their final stops, which ended up placing them back in the field. The stops occurred during a caution with less than 40 laps remaining. Martin did not pit and led the way for the final restart with 34 laps to go.
Kenseth moved around Martin for the lead shortly after the restart and then ran in front for the final 32 laps. He crossed the finish line 2.1 seconds ahead of Martin for his second Cup win at Dover. Kenseth's first victory there came in June 2006.
"Dover is my favorite track on the Sprint Cup circuit, and it's been a place where we've had a lot of success at as well, so I just love racing there," Kenseth said. "The track is so fast and challenging, and it's unique because of the way you drive up out of the turns. The turns sit a bit lower than the straightaways. and you can feel it when you're driving out there."
Kenseth is currently second in the point standings. He trails leader and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle by 10 points.
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the FedEx 400.
5-Hour Energy 200 - Dover International Speedway - Dover, DE
After last Saturday's 300-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the points battle between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler in the Nationwide Series has once again tighten up.
Stenhouse, the defending series champion, had his worst finish of the season so far with a 26th-place run at Charlotte. He suffered a broken driveshaft and spent more than 20 laps in the garage for repairs.
Sadler finished fifth and trimmed Stenhouse's lead from 28 points to 13.
The two will now take their title bout to Dover International Speedway.
"We had a tough weekend at Charlotte, but we've put that behind us and are looking forward to getting to Dover," Stenhouse said.
Stenhouse was impressive at Dover last year, finishing fourth in the spring race and fifth in the fall event. He finished 11th and 18th there during his 2010 rookie season.
Sadler placed sixth at Dover one year ago and finished 14th there last October. He competed in five Nationwide races at this track from 1996-98.
"I like racing at Dover; it's such a unique track," Sadler said. "Now that the Nationwide Series does not race at Nashville Superspeedway, it is the only concrete track other than Bristol Motor Speedway. Dover has a lot of banking, and a lot of G-forces, and we seem to run well there."
Joey Logano and Kurt Busch are the only Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in this race.
Ty Dillon is scheduled to make his Nationwide debut in Saturday's 200-mile race at Dover, driving the No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. Ty is the younger brother of 2011 Camping World Truck Series champion and current Nationwide rookie Austin Dillon and the grandson of NASCAR multi-team owner Richard Childress.
"I want to go out there in practice and learn everything that I can possibly learn before qualifying and the race," Ty Dillon said. "I have a number of great RCR teammates I'm able to lean on for advice and assist with my learning curve. Joey (Coulter) will be helpful, because he was in the same situation last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and all of our teammates were great in helping him as well. My brother, Austin, will also be a lot of help like he was in my Truck Series debut last year."
Forty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for the 5-Hour Energy 200.
Camping World Truck Series
Lucas Oil 200 - Dover International Speedway - Dover, DE
What a season it's been for the Camping World Truck Series so far.
There have been five different winners in as many races this year. Three of them are first-time winners in the series. Rookie John King pulled off a stunning upset in the February 24 season-opener at Daytona, while James Buescher claimed his maiden victory last month at Kansas.
Two weeks ago, Justin Lofton claimed his and Eddie Sharp Racing's inaugural truck win at Charlotte. Lofton also became the new points leader. He currently holds a one-point advantage over Timothy Peters.
"It's been a great start to the season," Lofton said. "Getting that win in Charlotte meant a lot. To be able to get not only my first win, but to be able to give (crew chief) Dan (Bormann), (team owner) Eddie (Sharp) and our sponsor, College Complete, their first wins too, that really meant a lot to me."
The Truck Series will kick off NASCAR's triple-header weekend at Dover International Speedway with Friday's 200-mile race. Dover has featured its share of first-time winners in the series. Jason Leffler (2003), Chad Chaffin (2004), Scott Speed (2008), Brian Scott (2009) and Aric Almirola (2010) all won their first truck races on this one-mile, concrete-surfaced track.
Could there be another first-time winner at Dover this weekend?
It could very well happen. Five drivers presently in the top-10 have yet to win a race -- Ty Dillon (rookie this year), Parker Kligerman, Jason White, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Joey Coulter.
There have been 11 different winners in the previous 12 truck races at Dover. Kyle Busch is the only one with multiple victories there. Busch won at Dover in 2005 and last year. He is not entered in this year's event.
In 2010, Lofton finished third at Dover, but last season, he was involved in an accident and finished 25th there.
"We ran really good at Dover my rookie year," Lofton said. "It was my first top-five finish, actually. But last year, we struggled a little bit. It is one of my favorite tracks. I'm looking forward to going there to see if we can get back-to-back wins."
Thirty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Lucas Oil 200. Kevin Harvick is the only Sprint Cup Series regular competing in this event.
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES
Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix - Belle Isle Park - Detroit, MI
After a three-year hiatus, the IZOD IndyCar Series returns to Detroit this weekend with the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.
Detroit hosted open-wheel racing on its downtown streets from 1989-91. Then the race was held at nearby Belle Isle Park from 1992-2001 and 2007-08.
IndyCar runs on the 2.07-mile, 14-turn Belle Isle Park one week after its most prestigious race of the season -- the Indianapolis 500.
In a race that featured a record 34 lead changes, Dario Franchitti became a three-time Indy 500 winner. Franchitti, though, had to overcome adversity to win the historic 500-mile event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He rebounded from an early-race incident on pit road when E.J. Viso spun him around.
Takuma Sato battled Franchitti for the lead on the final lap, but Sato made contact with him and crashed into the wall, allowing Franchitti to win the race under caution.
"You have dreams of winning there, so when you can do that, it just means so much," said Franchitti, who collected $2.47 million for winning this year's Indy 500. "It's Indianapolis. It's our Super Bowl. You have to fight for every position at that track, and it never gives you anything, so I'm very proud of the job we did."
With the win, Franchitti climbed up to sixth in the point standings. The three-time defending series champion is now 64 points behind leader Will Power.
Detroit is the fifth of 11 road/street courses on the series' schedule this year. Last October, IndyCar officials announced the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, with Chevrolet as the event sponsor, would be added to the 2012 calendar. Belle Isle had been on the 2009 schedule, but promoters of the race had to cancel it due to the ongoing automotive economic crises in Detroit.
"Detroit is the "Motor City," and we need to be there," Franchitti said. "Roger Penske's organization is running the event, and you know it's going to be first class. It's a week before the Canadian Grand Prix, too, so I expect some of the [Formula One] crowd will show up like they used to."
Franchitti finished sixth in the 2007 race at Belle Isle but did not compete in the event there the following year when he had his brief stint in NASCAR.
"It's a very tough track," he said. "It's so bumpy and so easy to make a mistake. What a challenge. Those first two corners are the reason I'm back in IndyCar, having gone away to NASCAR, because I stood there and watched them. I particularly watched "Dixie" (teammate Scott Dixon) go through there at full tilt. I just thought, 'Oh, man, I miss that.' And that's why I'm back."
Franchitti also competed in five CART races at Belle Isle, winning there in 1999.
Helio Castroneves has a lot of previous experience at Belle Isle. His first win in a major American open-wheel race came at this track in 2000. He drove for Roger Penske's CART team at the time. Castroneves won another CART event there the following year.
"Detroit is a special place for me, because it's where I got my first victory," he said. "It's also where my boss, Roger Penske, has his work. And now we're racing for Chevy, and Chevy is sponsoring the race. So it's a very, very important race. The track is a challenging place, and I love it. I just got to make it happen again. I can't wait."
When IndyCar last competed at Belle Isle four years ago, Castroneves dominated most of the race by leading 53 laps. But race officials penalized Castroneves for blocking Justin Wilson while the two were battling for the lead late in the event. Wilson led the final 15 laps to score his first career victory in the series. He drove for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing at the time.
"It's not the way you really want to win the race, though I felt we had the quickest car all day," Wilson said. "I tried to put a move to get the lead and had to hit the brakes instead. They reversed the positions, and I got the lead and pulled ahead."
Twenty-five teams are on the entry list for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.
05/30 22:47:38 ET