NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
 
                  === This Week in Auto Racing May 10 - 12 ===
 
 By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
 
 Darlington,  SC  (Sports Network) -  The Sprint  Cup and Nationwide Series are
 running  at one of NASCAR's most historic racetracks, Darlington Raceway, this
 weekend.  Formula  One is  in Europe for  the first time  this season with the
 Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.
 
 
 NASCAR
 
 Sprint Cup Series
 
 Bojangles' Southern 500 - Darlington Raceway - Darlington, S.C.
 
 Jeff  Gordon is expected to reach another milestone in his already illustrious
 NASCAR career this weekend at Darlington Raceway.
 
 Gordon, at age 41, will make his 700th career start -- all consecutively -- in
 the  Sprint Cup Series. He will become the 15th driver in NASCAR's top circuit
 to compete in 700 or more races.
 
 "I've  been fortunate to race this long and have the type of career I've had,"
 Gordon  said. "It's  really cool to see  that this will be my 700th start, but
 it's  not something I  really paid attention to. It's hard to believe I've run
 that many - especially consecutively."
 
 Since  his Cup debut  on Nov. 15, 1992 at Atlanta, Gordon has evolved from the
 "Wonder Boy," a nickname given to him by Dale Earnhardt in 1995, to one of the
 most  accomplished drivers in the sport. The four-time Sprint Cup champion has
 scored 87 wins, including three Daytona 500 victories, 299 top-5 finishes, 416
 top-10s  and 72  poles  in 699  career  starts. He  also  has a  NASCAR-record
 $131,087,923 in career winnings to date.
 
 Darlington  has been one of Gordon's best racetracks over the years. His seven
 victories here is tops among all active drivers. David Pearson holds the track
 record with 10 wins, followed by Earnhardt with nine.
 
 Gordon  has  recorded 18 top-five  finishes, 21 top-10s  and three poles in 32
 starts  at Darlington as  well. His total of 1,720 laps led around this 1.366-
 mile "egg-shaped" oval is best among active drivers.
 
 "I  always look forward to going to Darlington," he said. "It's a great track.
 It's  fast and  exciting. It's not the same  track it used to be 10 years ago,
 but  it's still  one of those tracks  where you have to push hard, be patient.
 We've run good there the last couple of times, so I'm looking forward to it."
 
 Six  of Gordon's  seven victories at Darlington have come in the Southern 500.
 He  won this  race consecutively from 1995-98 and then took the checkered flag
 for the 2002 and '07 events. Gordon won the 400-mile spring race here in 1996.
 He finished 35th in last year's 500-miler at Darlington.
 
 Right  now,  Gordon is 14th  in the  point standings. His Hendrick Motorsports
 teammate,  Jimmie  Johnson, holds  a sizeable  41-point lead over second-place
 Carl Edwards.
 
 Johnson  is the  defending race winner at Darlington. When the series competed
 here  one  year ago, he  gave team  owner Rick Hendrick  his 200th win in Cup.
 Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports also ended a 16-race winless streak.
 
 "I  know we were all trying very hard to get that 200th win for Rick," Johnson
 said.  "All  of our teams  were close  multiple times. Martinsville would have
 been  extremely fitting, obviously, but Darlington has a great feel to it too.
 And,  to understand  some of Rick's early  memories and the first race he ever
 went to watch being there at Darlington, it ties it all in.
 
 "The history that track has in our sport, and that of Hendrick Motorsports and
 the history of NASCAR, it fits very well. It's a tough, tough racetrack to get
 around. I'm proud of every win I have there, and especially that 200th win."
 
 Gordon  delivered  HMS its 50th  victory in March  1996 at Darlington. He also
 gave  the  racing organization its 100th  win in June 2001 at Michigan. Gordon
 shares ownership of Johnson's No. 48 team with Hendrick.
 
 "Jeff  is an icon of our sport," Johnson said. "When I was young, I bought his
 diecast  car. It  sat on a shelf in  my room. I didn't know him. I watched him
 through  the Thursday night  thunder racing. He gave me hope as a young driver
 with  a different background that I could end up in a stock car. I watched him
 through  all  of his amazing seasons.  Then I met him  and got to know him. He
 brought me on board, racing against him for wins and championships.
 
 "It's  been a wild  situation for me, because literally, I was a fan, and then
 to  be able to  race against him and all of that, it was kind of mind-blowing.
 It's been a very cool experience."
 
 Forty-four  teams  are on  the  preliminary  entry  list for  the  Bojangles's
 Southern 500.
 
 
 Nationwide Series
 
 VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 - Darlington Raceway - Darlington, S.C.
 
 Regan  Smith  is not only  fresh off a  victory at Talladega Superspeedway but
 atop the Nationwide Series point standings for the first time in his career as
 well.
 
 Smith  won last Saturday's Nationwide race at Talladega in a thrilling finish.
 With pushing help from his teammate and Sprint Cup Series regular Kasey Kahne,
 Smith  charged from seventh to first on the final lap. He pulled ahead of Joey
 Logano for the lead by just inches when the caution came for a seven-car wreck
 that  occurred on the frontstretch. It took several minutes for race officials
 to declare Smith as the winner, as they reviewed the finish.
 
 Spending  the  past five seasons  in Sprint  Cup, Smith returned to Nationwide
 full-time  this year, driving the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, which is
 co-owned  by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Smith won the 2012 Nationwide season-finale at
 Homestead,  Fla. in  his stellar debut with  JRM. It was also his first win in
 the series.
 
 Smith  came  to Talladega only  one point behind  Sam Hornish Jr., but Hornish
 finished  25th after being  caught up in a big wreck on the backstretch during
 the  closing  laps and fell  27 points  out of the  lead. Smith has scored six
 top-10 finishes in the first eight Nationwide races this season.
 
 "We've  had a  lot of work that's  gone on during the offseason and during the
 season,  and these  guys (No. 7 team)  have been working hard week in and week
 out,"  Smith  said. "As a  team, it's just been  a steady progression. We feel
 like we're getting better and better."
 
 This  is also  the  first time  a  driver from  JRM has  been  atop the  point
 rankings.  The  team began  competing in NASCAR's  second-tier series in 2005.
 Brad  Keselowski, who drove  for JRM during part of the 2007 season and all of
 '08 and '09, went as high as second in the standings during the '08 season.
 
 "I'm really happy for Regan and the whole group," Earnhardt Jr. said. "They've
 been  working so hard  and so many late nights trying to get faster and trying
 to  find that extra  bit of speed that they need. They're trying to be as good
 as they can be. You can really see the effort between (crew chief) Greg (Ives)
 and the whole group in the shop during the week. There is so much work they're
 doing,  trying  to learn and trying  to gel as  fast as they can, because they
 know that they have a great opportunity this year."
 
 Darlington  has  become a very special  place for Smith. The Cato, N.Y. native
 scored his first career Sprint Cup victory at this racetrack in May 2011.
 
 "There  is  just something about  Darlington," he said.  "Every time I pull in
 there,  I feel good  and I enjoy it. The best way I can describe Darlington is
 it's  the racing equivalent to Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. It's so legendary
 with  the history  and tradition there. It's  almost like you can see that all
 the  time, the history, and the age that is in that place. I got a really cool
 parking  spot in 'Champion's  Alley' after my Cup win there too. I always make
 sure to take a picture of it when I'm there."
 
 Smith has not competed in a Nationwide race at Darlington since 2007. His best
 finish in four previous starts here is 12th, which came in '07.
 
 Forty-three  teams  are on the preliminary  entry list for the VFW Sport Clips
 Help  a  Hero 200. Kyle  Busch, Kasey Kahne and  Joey Logano are those drivers
 scheduled to compete in this event. Logano is the defending race winner.
 
 
 FORMULA ONE
 
 Spanish Grand Prix - Circuit de Catalunya - Barcelona, Spain
 
 The  "European  tour" of the 2013  Formula One season begins this weekend with
 the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya.
 
 When  F1 came to Barcelona one year ago, Pastor Maldonado from Williams pulled
 off  a stunning  victory in the Spanish GP. Maldonado and Fernando Alonso from
 Ferrari  exchanged  the lead several  times throughout the 66-lap race. Alonso
 trailed him by less than one second in the closing laps but wound up finishing
 3.2 seconds behind.
 
 Maldonado  scored his maiden  F1 victory in the Spanish GP. He also became the
 first Venezuelan driver in the sport to win a race.
 
 "It  will be  very special  to return  to Barcelona  after my  win there  last
 season,"  Maldonado said.  "While all the drivers know the track very well and
 we  have some  good data  from testing  here earlier  in the  year, the  track
 changes  quite a  lot  so you  still  need to  familiarize  yourself with  the
 conditions during practice and set up the car accordingly."
 
 Maldonado was also credited with his first pole win in last year's Spanish GP.
 He  originally  qualified second but  inherited the pole after Lewis Hamilton,
 who  drove for McLaren at the time, was stripped of the position due to a fuel
 violation in qualifying.
 
 Unfortunately,  the race-winning celebration for Maldonado and Williams at the
 Barcelona  circuit was  quickly interrupted  when a  fire broke  out in  their
 garage area. The fire erupted when there was a problem with the KERS on one of
 Williams' cars. There were no injuries, but the flames caused extensive damage
 to  the team's equipment in the garage, including Bruno Senna's car. Senna was
 involved in an early-race collision with Michael Schumacher.
 
 Since  winning the Spanish GP last year, Maldonado has finished no better than
 fifth  in  a grand prix and  has scored just 12  points. He has no points this
 season, with his best finish of 11th coming three weeks ago in Bahrain.
 
 "At  the moment,  we are  living hard  moments, especially  this start  to the
 season  has been  very hard for us," Maldonado said. "We're working very hard.
 The  spirit is quite  high in the team. We are working together as friends, as
 family,  as a real team. We really hope to improve our performance quite soon,
 and hopefully we will be there fighting for good places."
 
 Red  Bull's  Sebastian Vettel, the  three-time defending F1 champion, comes to
 Barcelona  with a 10-point lead over Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus. Vettel has won
 two  of the  first four grand prix  this season (Malaysia and Bahrain). He won
 the Spanish GP in 2011 and finished sixth in it last year.
 
 Hamilton,  now in  his first season with Mercedes, is 27 points behind Vettel,
 while  Alonso trails  by 30.  This is  Alonso's "home  race." He  is the  only
 Spaniard competing in F1 this year.
 
 "I think it motivates you to race at home, and you give an extra 10 percent on
 what  you normally  do, to take care  of every detail of the weekend, starting
 from (Friday's) practice," Alonso said. "You try to do everything well because
 you  know that a nice result here, a nice podium finish or whatever, will make
 you happy. It will make the team happy and make many people in the grandstands
 happy."
 
 Alonso won the Spanish GP in 2006.
 
 Raikkonen  is the  only active driver who has multiple victories in this race.
 He won it in 2005 and '08.
 
 05/09 15:00:27 ET

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