NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
 
                  === This Week in Auto Racing May 23 - 26 ===
 
 By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
 
 Indianapolis,  IN (Sports Network)  - Sunday is the biggest day of the year in
 auto racing, starting with the Monaco Grand Prix, followed by the Indianapolis
 500 and culminating with NASCAR's 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
 
 
 IZOD INDYCAR SERIES
 
 Indianapolis 500 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Indianapolis, Ind.
 
 Three drivers share the record for most victories in the Indianapolis 500 with
 four -- A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.
 
 Could  Sunday's 97th running  of the Indy 500 feature a fourth driver added to
 that list of record winners?
 
 Helio  Castroneves from  Team Penske  and Dario  Franchitti from  Chip Ganassi
 Racing have three victories each at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
 
 Franchitti  has won  three of the last  six races at Indy, including a victory
 here one year ago.
 
 In  a race that featured a record 34 lead changes, the 2012 Indy 500 concluded
 in  thrilling fashion. Franchitti grabbed the lead for good on the penultimate
 lap.  During  the last  circuit around  this famed  2.5-mile oval, Takuma Sato
 bumped  into  him while the  two were battling for  the top spot. Sato slammed
 into  the  outside wall  in turn one,  forcing the race  to end under caution.
 Franchitti  took the  checkered flag, while his teammate, Scott Dixon, crossed
 the finish line in second.
 
 Franchitti's  win here last year, though, was a difficult task. After starting
 16th  (on the inside  of row 6), Franchitti endured a pit-road mishap early in
 the  race when E.J.  Viso bumped into the back of the four-time IndyCar Series
 champion  and turned  him around in his  pit stall. Franchitti fell to 28th in
 the  field but patiently made his way through the field before taking the lead
 for the first time with 47 laps to go.
 
 Franchitti will start 17th in this year's Indy 500.
 
 "There's  no more  pressure  than there  is  on anybody  else  in the  field,"
 Franchitti said when he was asked if there was any pressure on him to win this
 race  a fourth time.  "Doesn't make you any faster. Doesn't make the team work
 any  harder. It's  simply  right now  about  the mechanics  of  trying to  put
 ourselves  in a position to challenge on race day, trying to make sure the car
 is fast and consistent."
 
 Sato  wound up  finishing 17th  in  last year's  Indy 500,  driving for  Rahal
 Letterman Lanigan Racing. He had led three times for a total of 31 laps. Sato,
 who is in his first season driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, is the current points
 leader. He holds a 13-point advantage over Marco Andretti.
 
 "The  500  last  year was  just  an  unforgettable  day  for me,"  Sato  said.
 "Obviously,  I was  disappointed with  the  result, but  still it  was just  a
 tremendous support from the team, and I had a great experience leading the 500
 for  the  first time. It  was a special feeling,  in particular after the hard
 fight,  hard  race with  everyone. When I  came back to  the garage (after the
 last-lap crash), hundreds of fans waited and cheered me on big time, and (team
 owner) Bobby (Rahal) really gave a big hand. It was just a special event."
 
 Sato  placed  18th in Indy  500 qualifying last Saturday.  He will share row 6
 with Franchitti and Dixon.
 
 Franchitti  won his first Indy 500 in 2007, a race shortened by 34 laps due to
 rain.  He drove  for Andretti Green Racing  at the time. His second victory in
 this race came in 2010.
 
 "I am very happy to have won one," Franchitti said. "Look at some of the great
 drivers that didn't get the opportunity even to win one, so I was happy. Three
 is beyond anything expected. But I really want the fourth."
 
 Castroneves is the only driver who won the Indy 500 consecutively in his first
 two  starts (2001 and '02). His most recent victory in this race came in 2009.
 He started on the pole in that event.
 
 "I  feel blessed to  be in this opportunity, to be in this elite group, I feel
 blessed," Castroneves said. "I still have a great chance to keep going."
 
 Castroneves  will  start from the  middle of row 3,  sharing the row with Ryan
 Hunter-Reay, the defending series champion, and James Hinchcliffe, who has two
 wins  already  this season  (St.  Petersburg,  Fla.  and Sao  Paulo,  Brazil).
 Castroneves is presently third in points (-20).
 
 "Obviously  in  the situation that  we are  right now, we're certainly feeling
 very  confident,  but we know  what we need  to do as  well," he said. "So now
 we're looking strong."
 
 If Castroneves or one of his teammates, Will Power and A.J. Allmendinger, wins
 the  Indy  500, It  would be  team owner  Roger Penske's record-extending 16th
 victory  in  this race. Allmendinger, who  is competing in his first Indy 500,
 qualified fifth, while Power placed one spot behind him in sixth.
 
 Ed  Carpenter,  an Indianapolis native, will  start on the pole for this race.
 Carpenter  won the Indy 500 pole for the first time with a four-lap average of
 228.762  mph during  the final segment in qualifying (the fast-nine shootout).
 Andretti  Autosport drivers  Carlos Munoz, also a rookie in this year's event,
 and Marco Andretti will share the front row with Carpenter.
 
 Thirty-three  teams  will have one last  opportunity to practice and fine tune
 their cars for the 500-mile race in Friday's "Carb Day."
 
 
 NASCAR
 
 Sprint Cup Series
 
 Coca-Cola 600 - Charlotte Motor Speedway - Concord, N.C.
 
 After running the all-star race this past weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway,
 it's  time for the Sprint Cup Series to get back to the point -- points racing
 that is.
 
 Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 is not only the 12th points-paying race this season but
 the  longest  and perhaps most grueling  event of the year in NASCAR's premier
 series.
 
 Scheduled  to start  in the late afternoon and conclude at nighttime, the 600-
 mile race at Charlotte is physically and mentally challenging for drivers.
 
 "You  can't go into this race thinking, 'Oh, we're just going to cruise at the
 beginning  and  wait for the track  to come to us'," said Hendrick Motorsports
 driver  and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon. "That used to exist, but it
 doesn't anymore. You start charging from the drop of the green flag."
 
 Charlotte,  a 1.5-mile  racetrack, has  been the  site of  several firsts  for
 Gordon  during  his career, including  his inaugural  Sprint Cup race win (May
 1994)  and maiden pole position (October 1993). He also won the 600-mile event
 here  consecutively  from 1997-98.  Gordon's  fifth  and  most recent  win  at
 Charlotte came in the 500-miler in October 2007.
 
 "The  (Coca-Cola 600) starts  during the day, and the track changes a lot when
 the  sun goes down,"  Gordon said. "You have to be ready to stay on top of the
 adjustments - almost get ahead of them instead of getting behind on them. It's
 a very long race, and I like long races because it suits my style. But the car
 has to be right."
 
 Jimmie  Johnson,  the five-time  Sprint Cup champion  and Gordon's teammate at
 Hendrick, won the all-star race for a record fourth time this past Saturday.
 
 If  Johnson  takes the checkered  flag for the  600-mile race this weekend, he
 will  become the  first driver to win  both Cup events at Charlotte during the
 month of May twice in his career. Johnson won the Charlotte double in 2003.
 
 Other  drivers who  have  won the  600-mile  event and  the  all-star race  at
 Charlotte  in  the same season  include: Darrell Waltrip (1985), Davey Allison
 (1991),  Dale Earnhardt  (1993), Gordon  (1997), Kasey  Kahne (2008)  and Kurt
 Busch (2010).
 
 Johnson  had  been the most  dominant driver  at Charlotte, finishing no worse
 than  third here from  May 2003 to October 2006. He is the only driver who has
 won  three consecutive Coca-Cola 600s (2003-05). In fact, he recorded a season
 sweep at Charlotte during the '04 and '05 seasons. His most recent win at this
 track came in the fall of 2009.
 
 Since  that  last win, Johnson  has struggled somewhat at Charlotte, finishing
 28th or worse in three of the last six races here. He won last year's all-star
 event  but  finished 11th in  the 600-mile race  one week later. His teammate,
 Kahne, won the 600.
 
 "We've  had  decent finishes, been competitive  and led laps, but the track is
 just  so  different now than it  was (before it  was repaved prior to the 2006
 Coca-Cola  600), and we had it scienced out," Johnson said. "We knew literally
 what  time in the afternoon, what the adjustment needed to be made to the car,
 and  it  was like clockwork,  didn't matter the  year, just every single time.
 It's not that way anymore."
 
 Johnson enters this race with a comfortable 44-point lead in the standings. He
 won  the Feb. 24 season-opening Daytona 500 and then scored his second victory
 of the year on April 7 at Martinsville.
 
 "If  I were to pick an area we need to improve on, it would be the 1.5-miles,"
 Johnson  said. "We're not bad. We're still getting good finishes. But we don't
 have that magic right now. I'm very happy to have this big points lead."
 
 Carl  Edwards  is currently  second in  points, while  his former Roush Fenway
 Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth, is third (-59).
 
 "Mentally,  I think  all of  us have  to prepare  a little  bit for  the extra
 distance,"  Edwards  said in regards  to the Coca-Cola  600. "It is a grueling
 event.  If  the temperatures are  high the  whole weekend, everyone starts the
 event hot and worn out already.
 
 "So 600 miles, you can look at it and say it's only 20 percent longer than the
 other  race  we run at  Charlotte, the 500  miler, but there's something about
 that last 100 miles that makes it a lot more mentally tough."
 
 Kenseth,  who is  in his first season  with Joe Gibbs Racing, leads the series
 with  three wins  this year,  including a  victory earlier  this month  in the
 Southern 500 at Darlington. He finished ninth in the all-star race.
 
 "I'm  looking  forward to the weekend,"  Kenseth said. "The 600 is probably my
 favorite  race of  the year.  Last weekend  (in the  all-star race)  didn't go
 exactly as planned."
 
 Kenseth's first career Cup win came in May 2000 at Charlotte.
 
 Forty-four teams are entered in the Coca-Cola 600. Bobby Labonte, the 2000 Cup
 champion, is scheduled to make his 700th consecutive start in the series.
 
 
 Nationwide Series
 
 History 300 - Charlotte Motor Speedway - Concord, N.C.
 
 Nationwide  Series driver  Michael  Annett  is very  much  looking forward  to
 Saturday's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
 
 Annett, who drives the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, is scheduled
 to  compete in  his first race since suffering a broken and dislocated sternum
 during an accident in the closing laps of the Feb. 23 Nationwide season-opener
 at Daytona International Speedway.
 
 He  was medically cleared for the 300-mile race at Charlotte following his MRI
 on Monday.
 
 "Obviously,  I can't  wait to get back  into the No. 43," Annett said. "It has
 been  a long  three months, and I am  more than ready to jump back in the car.
 The  accident at Daytona was disappointing for our team, but I'm very grateful
 for  the  amount of support  I had from the  team, NASCAR, family, friends and
 fans,  and not  to mention the outstanding medical team that helped me through
 all  of this. While  it was really hard to be on the sidelines, I realize that
 it was even more important to heal properly."
 
 Aric  Almirola, who drives for Petty in the Sprint Cup Series, substituted for
 Annett  in the No. 43 car in March at Phoenix (the second race of the season).
 Reed Sorenson had been behind the wheel of that car since then.
 
 Annett  is  expected to make his  140th career Nationwide start, including his
 ninth  at  Charlotte. His best  finish here is 10th,  which came one year ago.
 Annett finished a career-best fifth in the 2012 series point standings.
 
 "It's always fun to race at Charlotte," he said. "Since it's a 'home' race for
 most  of the  teams,  it's cool  to  see so  many family  and  friends get  to
 experience what we do every weekend. It's a fast mile-and-a-half track, and we
 typically  run well at the bigger tracks, so hopefully we can get a decent run
 my first time back in the car."
 
 Regan  Smith enters this race with a 28-point lead over Sam Hornish Jr., while
 Elliott Sadler is presently 42 points behind Smith.
 
 "It's  been a good start to the season for us," Smith said. "We certainly want
 to  keep that rolling  this weekend. We want to keep the good forward momentum
 going.  We had  an opportunity  to test  (Wednesday at  Charlotte) and  worked
 through  a lot of different things that we've been wanting to try with data on
 the  race cars and  things like that. So hopefully we can use that to continue
 to build on the points lead and have a good weekend this weekend."
 
 Smith won at Talladega and finished seventh at Darlington earlier this month.
 
 Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano are those
 Sprint  Cup regulars  scheduled for this race. Busch and Mark Martin share the
 record for most Nationwide victories at Charlotte with six each. Busch has not
 won here since May 2010.
 
 Forty-five teams are entered in the History 300.
 
 
 FORMULA ONE
 
 Monaco Grand Prix - Circuit de Monaco - Monte Carlo, Monaco
 
 The  Monaco Grand  Prix is not only  the most prestigious event on the Formula
 One calendar but its the toughest race of the season as well.
 
 Monte  Carlo has  been one of the most difficult circuits, where overtaking is
 virtually  impossible. Track position for the Monaco GP is key, since the pole
 sitter  for  this race has won  it in eight  of the last nine years, including
 the previous four. Lewis Hamilton won it from the third starting spot in 2008,
 the  same year he captured his first F1 world championship when he was driving
 for McLaren. He is now in his first season with Mercedes.
 
 "Monaco  is  spectacular," Hamilton  said. "I  don't feel  it's like any other
 race.  Winning  here is unique  and special,  in its own  way. When you do win
 here,  when you  finally get that, you have the most incredible feeling. Every
 time you come here that's what you're chasing for every year."
 
 Hamilton's  teammate,  Nico Rosberg,  topped the time  charts in both practice
 sessions  for the  Monaco GP on Thursday. Hamilton placed fifth in the opening
 session and second in the final.
 
 "A  very productive day for us," Rosberg said. "We completed a lot of laps (77
 laps combined in both sessions), and I feel comfortable with the car. It seems
 that  we  are quick again on  one lap, but we  have been working hard again to
 make improvements to our race pace. It will be interesting to see where we are
 compared  to  the others over  the weekend,  as it's not really representative
 today."
 
 Rosberg  has won the  pole position for the last two grand prix -- Bahrain and
 Spain.  Hamilton captured  his first pole with Mercedes in the Chinese GP this
 past month. Neither Rosberg nor Hamilton has yet to win a race this season.
 
 The  2.075-mile, 19-turn  Monte Carlo circuit winds its way through the narrow
 streets,  starting with the first corner from Ste-Devote, then moves uphill to
 the  steep  hill of  Beau Rivage and  plunges back down  to the Mirabeau Hotel
 before  heading into  the tunnel  and chicane,  located along  the illustrious
 harbor side. It wraps up at the tricky Loews hairpin.
 
 Changes  have been made  to this circuit since last year's race. The track has
 been  resurfaced  on the pit straight  and between turns  1 and 3. A number of
 improvements have been made to the left-side debris fencing on the approach to
 turn  3 and on  the left between turns 8 and 10. A new 50-centimeter wide curb
 has  been installed at the apex of turn 5, and the curb at the exit of turn 19
 has been widened by 20 cm.
 
 Monte  Carlo  features a  slower average  speed than any  other circuit on the
 current  F1 calendar. Teams bring their highest downforce aero configurations,
 and  Pirelli supplies  them with  its  soft and  supersoft tires  in order  to
 maximize mechanical grip.
 
 "You can't even make the smallest mistake, but if you do, you're lucky if it's
 just  that your lap  time is bad," Red Bull driver and three-time defending F1
 world  champion  Sebastian Vettel  said. "If you're  not paying attention, you
 will  end up  in the barrier. Overtaking  is possible, but only with risk. The
 best place for that is before the chicane. We come out of the narrow tunnel at
 more  than  300 kph and  race to the  first gear-chicane. Whoever brakes later
 wins. Ideally, you have a good qualifying session and start from far forward."
 
 Red  Bull has won the last three Monaco GPs. Mark Webber scored the victory in
 this race in 2010 and last year, while Vettel took the checkered flag in 2011.
 
 Fernando  Alonso from  Ferrari has  an opportunity  to make  history in  Monte
 Carlo.  If Alonso were  to cross the finish line in first in the Monaco GP, he
 would  become the first driver to win it with three different teams. His first
 victory  in this  race came with Renault  in 2006, and his second win came the
 following year when he drove for McLaren.
 
 A  Ferrari driver has  not won the Monaco GP since Michael Schumacher last did
 it in 2001.
 
 "It's  been many  years since Ferrari has  not managed to win here, and for me
 personally, I could be the first man to win for three different teams, and for
 sure, that is a huge motivation to do it," Alonso said.
 
 Alonso  won the Spanish GP on May 12 in Barcelona. His teammate, Felipe Massa,
 joined him on the podium there with a third-place finish.
 
 "The  feeling  is good,  and  the  team  is confident,  as  we  saw we  had  a
 competitive  package, getting  both our  cars onto  the podium  in Barcelona,"
 Alonso  said. "However, Monaco is a unique track where you need a special set-
 up  and confidence  in your driving. We  have had two podiums here in the last
 couple  of years, so  we should be competitive again, and I hope to get a good
 result."
 
 05/23 17:18:55 ET

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