This Week in Auto Racing Aug. 2 - 4

3:12 PM, Aug 1, 2013   |    comments
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Long Pond, PA (Sports Network) - The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series are running at Pocono Raceway, while the Nationwide Series is competing at Iowa Speedway this weekend. IndyCar returns to action at Mid-Ohio.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

GoBowling.com 400 - Pocono Raceway - Long Pond, Pa.

With six races to go before the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins, the battle for the wild cards is heating up.

Right now, Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. hold the two wild card positions. Jeff Gordon occupies the 10th spot in the point standings, but Gordon, who has yet to win a race this season, is only one point ahead of 11th-place Stewart. Ninth-place Kasey Kahne is just five markers ahead of Gordon.

Stewart and Truex, who is 12th in points, have one victory each. Stewart won the June 2 race at Dover, while Truex took the checkered flag in Sonoma, Calif. three weeks later.

The Sprint Cup Series returns to Pocono Raceway this weekend after running here the second week in June. One year ago, Gordon won at Pocono for a record sixth time. Starting 27th, Gordon took the lead for the first time when a five-car crash occurred just after a restart on lap 91. The four-time Cup champion led eight laps under caution before a severe thunderstorm moved over the area. NASCAR was forced to end the race 62 laps short of its 160-lap, 400- mile distance, allowing Gordon to claim the victory one day after he turned 41 years old.

"Last year, we battled hard all day long and got into a position to battle for the win," Gordon said. "We got a little bit of a 'gift' at the end to win, but we worked hard to put ourselves in a position to take advantage of any miscue."

Gordon's win at Pocono helped him clinch the second wild card position for the 2012 Chase. He edged Kyle Busch for the last playoff spot by just three points.

Gordon finished seventh in last Sunday's race at Indianapolis and moved up two spots in the rankings.

"We've had some fast race cars, but we just need to string together some strong finishes," he said. "It seems like every time we get some decent finishes, something happens to halt that momentum. We have six races left before the Chase, and we need to make the most of them so we can earn a spot."

Gordon is expected to make his 42nd start at Pocono on Sunday, the same day he celebrates his 42nd birthday.

Ryan Newman jumped into the wild card hunt with his win at Indianapolis. Newman, an Indiana native, won the Brickyard 400 for the first time. Sitting 16th in the rankings, he is 25 points behind Gordon. He also is third in the wild card standings.

Newman's No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing team plans to use its Indianapolis race- winning car at Pocono.

"It's actually the same race car we had at the first Pocono race that we finished fifth with," Newman said. "We had planned on turning it around and bringing it. We had no idea at that point it would take until Tuesday. What I don't think a lot of people know is, with the NASCAR inspection process, the winning race car is taken from the track back to the NASCAR R&D center (in Concord, N.C.), where they go over absolutely everything. Sometime around lunchtime Tuesday, the team then gets the car back."

Indianapolis and Pocono are both flat tracks that are 2.5 miles in length, but Pocono is a unique triangular track. The turns are wider here than Indy, allowing for more passing in the corners. The Brickyard 400 featured very little passing.

"It's harder to pass at the Brickyard than it is at Pocono," Stewart said. "There's a fair amount of room going into (turn) one at Pocono, and you can run two-wide there and you can go two-wide in (turn) three at the beginning of a run. But it's pretty tough to run two-wide through the corners at Indy."

Stewart also moved up two spots in points following his fourth-place run at Indy.

Just 39 points separate Gordon from 19th-place Paul Menard. Brad Keselowski, the defending series champion, fell four spots in the standings to 13th after finishing 21st in the Brickyard 400. Keselowski is six points behind Gordon. He won at Pocono in August 2011.

"I know what kind of team we have, so I'm confident we can get it squared away," Keselowski said. "But any time you go back to a track where you've won before you definitely feel a bit better about what you can do."

Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the GoBowling.com 400.

Camping World Truck Series

Pocono Mountains 125 - Pocono Raceway - Pocono, Pa.

After running at a half-mile dirt track for the first time last week, the Camping World Truck Series is back on asphalt at a much bigger venue this weekend.

Joey Coulter's fourth-place run made him the highest-finishing series-regular in the July 24 event at Eldora Speedway. The series will now compete at Pocono Raceway, where Coulter is the defending race winner. His first career truck victory came at this 2.5-mile triangular track.

Coulter drove for Richard Childress Racing during his first two seasons in the series (2011-12). He is now behind the wheel of the No. 18 truck for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

"Pocono is a very technical track that requires a lot of concentration and can really be frustrating for a driver to learn," Coulter said. "I like Pocono because it's just different from any other track that we go to."

Coulter finished sixth at Pocono in 2011. Last year, he led the final seven laps to grab the victory here.

"Of course winning at Pocono doesn't hurt how much I enjoy racing there," he said. "I think any track that you win on instantly becomes one of your favorites."

Coulter is currently 12th in the point standings. He has recorded four top-10 finishes in the first 10 races this season, including a second-place run in the April 20 event at Kansas.

Saturday's 50-lap, 125-mile race at Pocono will mark the halfway point of the 2013 season in trucks. Last year, Coulter scored seven of his eight top-five finishes and 10 of his 15 top-10s between Pocono and the season-finale in Homestead, Fla.

Matt Crafton comes to Pocono with a very comfortable 48-point lead over rookie Jeb Burton. James Buescher, the defending series champion, is 51 points behind Crafton, while Ty Dillon is 56 out of the lead.

Thirty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Pocono Mountains 125.

Nationwide Series

U.S. Cellular 250 - Iowa Speedway - Newton, Iowa

For the first time in his Nationwide Series career, Austin Dillon is atop the point standings.

Despite a 12th-place finish in last Saturday's race at Indianapolis, Dillon grabbed the top spot, as he holds a six-point advantage over Regan Smith. Sam Hornish Jr. came to Indy with a seven-point lead, but after finishing 34th due to an overheating issue, he dropped to fourth in the rankings (-14). Elliott Sadler holds the third spot (-13).

Dillon, who is the 23-year-old grandson of NASCAR multi-team owner Richard Childress, is in his second full season of Nationwide competition.

In 2011, Dillon became the youngest champion in the Camping World Truck Series at age 21. He's now hoping for a title in Nationwide.

"It would be very special, and it's definitely a goal for our whole organization at (Richard Childress Racing)," Dillon said. "I would love to do that for my grandfather and every employee over there. I've been staying focused and making sure that we have good days at the track. We've had good cars all year long. We'll keep trying, and hopefully we'll be in a position to battle for the championship at the end of the year."

While Sprint Cup and trucks are running at Pocono Raceway, Nationwide is competing at Iowa Speedway this weekend. When Nationwide raced at Iowa for the first time this season in June, Dillon put on a dominating performance by starting on the pole and leading 207 of 250 laps. But Dillon gave up the top spot to Trevor Bayne with 22 laps to go, as Bayne went on to score the victory. The race was delayed one day due to rain.

Dillon finished fourth and 15th at Iowa during his Nationwide rookie season last year.

"Iowa Speedway is a place where we have given away a few races," he said. "We've led a lot of laps. We've had pit stop problems and different things happen in the races that have cost us a few wins. I've always been pretty strong there, and hopefully we can capitalize this weekend."

Forty teams are on the preliminary entry list for the U.S. Cellular 250.

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES

Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio - Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course - Lexington, Ohio

Look out Helio Castroneves, here comes Scott Dixon. And he's coming in a hurry.

Dixon has jumped up to second in the IndyCar Series point standings after winning the last three races. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver and two-time series champion won the July 7 inaugural race at Pocono and then scored a sweep in the weekend doubleheader in Toronto three weeks ago. He is now 29 points behind leader Castroneves.

Dixon's winning-momentum could very well continue this weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He has won four of the six IndyCar-sanctioned races at Mid- Ohio, including victories in 2011 and '12.

"I hope we can keep these results coming," Dixon said. "It was much needed. It was a big turning point for us in the championship. Before Pocono, we were 92 points out and now 29 and second in the championship. Typically, Mid-Ohio has been a great circuit for us. Hopefully, that transfers."

Ganassi has been dominant at this 2.3-mile road course. Dixon's first two victories here came in 2007 and '09. His teammate, Dario Franchitti, won at this course in 2010.

"I think it's a combination of the team," Dixon noted. "They've always had good results here, and both cars have been very quick. If you could put your finger on it, you would try to replicate it at every track."

Ryan Briscoe is the only driver not from Ganassi that has an IndyCar victory at Mid-Ohio. Briscoe's win here came in 2008 when he drove for Team Penske. He is not entered in this weekend's race.

Since the formation of IndyCar in 1996, no driver has won four races in a row. Sebastien Bourdais did win four consecutive events in the Champ Car World Series in 2006, two years before it merged with IndyCar.

Last year, Will Power won three straight races early in the season (Birmingham, Long Beach and Sao Paulo) and then Ryan Hunter-Reay scored three victories in a row later in the year (Milwaukee, Iowa and Toronto). Hunter- Reay went on to win the championship.

If history repeats itself, Dixon could notch his third IndyCar champion. His first title came in 2003. It's been five years since his most recent one.

"I think the championships in 2003 and 2008 -- there were five years in between -- that the ups and downs make you realize it's not that easy to win races," he said. "In 2003, it was a strange deal. It's fair to say I was a little reluctant to start with but also very young. I didn't really know what I had achieved at that point. It was still a hell of an accomplishment.

"In 2008, it was an all-around great year. We won six races, won the Indy 500. It was one of those dream years. For me to look back at that stage in my career, it was very cool to look back and see what we had achieved that year. It's strange to have championships that far apart and look at the differences and see how you were different at those times."

Twenty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

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