NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
 
                  === This Week in Auto Racing April 4 - 6 ===
 
 By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
 
 Fort  Worth, TX  (SportsNetwork.com) -  The NASCAR  Sprint Cup  and Nationwide
 Series  are  racing at Texas Motor  Speedway, while Formula One is running the
 Bahrain Grand Prix at nighttime in Sakhir, Bahrain this weekend.
 
 
 NASCAR
 
 Sprint Cup Series
 
 Duck Commander 500 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, Texas
 
 Six races, six different winners.
 
 The  2014 season in NASCAR's premier series has begun in record fashion during
 the  Chase for  the  Sprint Cup  era.  Not  since 2003,  the  year before  the
 championship Chase format began, has there been six different winners to start
 the  season. The record  for most different winners to begin the season is 10,
 which was set in 2000.
 
 Last  Sunday, Kurt  Busch won at Martinsville after rebounding from a pit-road
 incident  with Brad  Keselowski and  Kasey Kahne  early in  the race  and then
 passing Jimmie Johnson for the lead with 11 laps to go. Busch held off Johnson
 at  the  finish by  just 0.26  seconds to  snap an  83-race winless drought in
 Sprint  Cup.  He also  joined  his  younger brother,  Kyle,  as  well as  Dale
 Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Keselowski as those drivers who
 have all but guaranteed themselves a berth in this year's Chase.
 
 NASCAR has expanded the field of drivers/teams in the Chase from 12 to 16. The
 top-15  drivers with  the most  wins during  the 26-race  regular season  will
 become eligible for the playoffs, provided they have finished in the top-30 in
 points.  The 16th and  final position will go to the driver who is the highest
 in points without a victory.
 
 If there are more than 15 winners when the regular season concludes on Sept. 6
 at  Richmond,  a race winner  could be  left out of  the Chase. But that's not
 likely to happen.
 
 There  were 13  different winners  after  26 races  in 2000  and 16  different
 winners following 26 events in 2003. Matt Kenseth held the points lead and had
 one victory heading into the 27th race of the '03 season.
 
 The  seventh  race this season takes  place on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
 The  spring event at this 1.5-mile racetrack had been held on a Saturday night
 in  the  past three years,  but this Saturday,  the national semifinals of the
 2014  NCAA Men's  Basketball Tournament (Final Four) is taking place at nearby
 AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
 
 Qualifying  for  the 500-mile race at  Texas is scheduled for Saturday at 2:10
 p.m. local time (3:10 p.m. ET).
 
 Will we see another new winner this season on Sunday at Texas?
 
 It's  quite  possible, particularly  with Johnson,  the six-time and defending
 series  champion,  and Kenseth, who  finished second  in points last year, not
 having been to victory lane yet this season. In 2013, Kenseth scored a series-
 season-high seven wins, followed by Johnson with six victories.
 
 Johnson's  most recent  win came  at  Texas last  November. Two  weeks ago  in
 Fontana,  Calif., he led  a race-high 104 laps but blew his left-front tire in
 the closing laps, which led to a 24th-place finish. Johnson finished second at
 Martinsville after leading the most laps there with 296.
 
 "Texas  is  one of the more  interesting racetracks we race on," Johnson said.
 "The  characteristics of the track - the bumps and the surface - will make for
 an exciting race. So far with six winners in six races, the racing in 2014 has
 been  really exciting  for the  fans. We've  run up  front and  led a  lot but
 haven't been able to finish the job."
 
 Johnson  and  Edwards lead all drivers  with three wins each at Texas. Kenseth
 has two victories here, with his most recent occurring in April 2011.
 
 "Texas  has been one  of our better tracks, at least statistically, and how we
 generally   performed  here,"  Kenseth  said.  "Last  spring,  we  didn't  run
 particularly well. Last fall, we ran better. I got myself put to the back kind
 of  toward the middle  of the race and was able to work our way back to fourth
 or something like that.
 
 "It's  a fun  track. It's one I've  really enjoyed since the first time I came
 here. I'm looking forward to this weekend. There's a few different things with
 that  new right-side tire and obviously the new rules on the cars and all that
 stuff."
 
 Greg  Biffle, Denny  Hamlin  and Tony  Stewart are  two-time  Sprint Cup  race
 winners  at Texas, and  neither one of those drivers has scored a victory this
 season.
 
 Forty-seven teams are on the entry list for the Duck Commander 500.
 
 
 Nationwide Series
 
 O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, Texas
 
 After  taking a break last week, the Nationwide Series resumes its schedule on
 Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
 
 It's the sixth race of the season for the series. Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne
 enter  this 300-mile  event sharing the top spot in the championship standings
 -- 185 points apiece.
 
 In  Thursday's practice  sessions at Texas, Smith posted the third fastest lap
 overall  at 179.850  mph, while  Bayne  was fourth  overall on  the charts  at
 179.653 mph.
 
 "Our  [car] has been fast from the moment we hit the track," Smith said. "It's
 really  comfortable and has a lot of speed - both important elements at Texas.
 We  spent most  of our time fine tuning  on it. I think our biggest hurdle was
 probably turn three, but we worked through it."
 
 Smith  won  the Feb. 22 Nationwide  season-opener at Daytona and then finished
 eighth  the following  week at  Phoenix  before placing  10th in  each of  the
 previous three races (Las Vegas, Bristol and Fontana, Calif.).
 
 Bayne  has  started the season with  five consecutive top-10 finishes as well.
 This  is the first  time in his six-year Nationwide career that he has held or
 shared the points lead.
 
 "We  have been steadily  climbing up the points ladder, and I'm hoping to take
 the  top spot this  weekend," Bayne said. "The guys [No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing
 team]  have  been working really  hard to  get me fast  cars, and I think it's
 paying off."
 
 Bayne's  first  career win  in Nationwide  came in November  2011 at Texas. He
 finished 26th in last year's spring race here and 11th in the fall event.
 
 Smith had top-10 finishes in both races at this track during the 2013 season.
 
 Kyle  Busch,  Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin  Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson
 are  those Sprint Cup Series regulars scheduled to compete in this race. Busch
 holds  the record  for most  Nationwide wins  at Texas  with six,  including a
 victory  here one year  ago. Larson claimed his first career win in the series
 two weeks ago in Fontana.
 
 Forty teams are on the entry list for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300.
 
 
 FORMULA ONE
 
 Bahrain Grand Prix - Bahrain International Circuit - Sakhir, Bahrain
 
 Lewis  Hamilton  from Mercedes  has begun  his weekend in  Bahrain in the same
 fashion  that  he concluded last weekend's  race in Malaysia, setting the pace
 ahead of his teammate, Nico Rosberg.
 
 Mercedes  has been the  dominant team up to this point in the 2014 Formula One
 season.  Rosberg won  the March 16 season-opening Australian Grand Prix, while
 Hamilton  claimed the  victory in last Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix. Rosberg,
 who  finished  second to  Hamilton in  Malaysia, is the  current leader in the
 world championship point standings.
 
 This  Sunday's Bahrain Grand  Prix will be the first time this race is held at
 nighttime.
 
 On  Friday,  Hamilton topped  the time  charts in  both practice sessions. The
 Briton  led the  way in P1 with a  lap in 1 minute, 37.502 seconds and set the
 pace  again in  P2, turning a lap  in 1:34.325. Rosberg was second quickest in
 the two sessions.
 
 Hamilton  has yet to  win the Bahrain GP in six previous attempts. He finished
 second in this race during his 2007 rookie season and placed third in the 2010
 event.
 
 "It  was great to kick-start my season with a win in Malaysia," Hamilton said.
 "Taking  a one-two was  also a fantastic result for the team, and I can't wait
 to see what we can do in Bahrain. I've finished on the podium here a couple of
 times  here, but for one reason or another, I've never managed to get the win.
 Until  last week,  it was  the same  story for  me with  Malaysia. So  fingers
 crossed this can be the year of breaking those cycles."
 
 Rosberg's best finish in the Bahrain GP is fifth (2010 and '12). He started on
 pole but finished ninth in last year's event here.
 
 "The  first  two races have been  a great start  to my season, and I'm already
 looking  forward  to being  back in the  car and carrying  on that momentum in
 Bahrain,"  Rosberg  said. "It's a great  track, and I really enjoy driving it.
 I've  never had  much luck on race  weekends here, but it's definitely the one
 I'm best prepared for this year."
 
 Hamilton  and Rosberg  were very  quick in  Bahrain during  winter testing  in
 February and March.
 
 Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was third fastest in the first two practices for the
 Bahrain  GP. Alonso has  won this event three times (2005, '06 and '10), which
 is more than any other driver.
 
 Sebastian  Vettel from Red  Bull has won the last two Bahrain GPs. Vettel, the
 four-time  defending  world champion,  retired early  in Australia but bounced
 back nicely in Malaysia with a third-place finish.
 
 "The  track  here is  quite tricky,  as you have  got a  lot of straights, and
 therefore  we have  got to  save quite  a lot  of fuel  on Sunday  compared to
 Malaysia,"  Vettel  said. "Already  in testing  and for sure  at the first two
 races,  we  have seen  that Mercedes  has the strongest  package. They are way
 quicker  than  us on the  straights, so  it will be  difficult to keep up with
 them.
 
 "But  a very  positive thing that we have  seen in the first two races is that
 our  car has  potential, so it is up to  us now to get the best out of what we
 have at the moment."
 
 Vettel  was 10th  on  the time  charts  in  P1 (1:39.389)  and  seventh in  P2
 (1:35.606).
 
 04/04 15:13:09 ET

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