This Week in Auto Racing July 13 - 15Jul 12, 2012 - 5:30 AM Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - All three of NASCAR's national touring series are in action this weekend, with Sprint Cup and Nationwide competing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Camping World Truck running at Iowa Speedway.
Sprint Cup Series
Lenox Industrial Tools 301 - New Hampshire Motor Speedway - Loudon, NH
The battle for who will make this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship has been heating up the past couple of weeks, much like the sweltering heat wave throughout most of the country.
With eight races remaining in the regular season, just 14 points separate fifth-place Tony Stewart from 10th-place Clint Bowyer. The two wild card spots are very much up for grabs right now as well.
The top-10 drivers in points after the September 8 race at Richmond will qualify for the Chase, and the wild cards will go to the non-top-10-ranked competitors with the most wins, as long as they're ranked in the top 20 in points.
Two weeks ago, Bowyer was coming off of his first road course win at Sonoma, CA and held the seventh spot in the point standings, but after finishing 16th at Kentucky and then 29th at Daytona, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver is on the bubble.
Fortunately, Bowyer is heading to one of his best racetracks in Sprint Cup this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Bowyer, in his first season with MWR, is the only repeat winner at this 1.058-mile track in the past nine races. His first of six career wins so far came at New Hampshire in September 2007.
"The last couple of weekends have not been very good," Bowyer said. "Daytona was kind of a disaster for us, but I'm looking forward to getting into New Hampshire where I usually have a pretty good run."
New Hampshire is one of two tracks where he has won multiple times. Talladega is the other.
"(New Hampshire) is just one of those tracks where I feel like we can win again, but more importantly, we can get things steered back in the right direction, like we had through the month of June," Bowyer said. "We had a lot of solid runs right there, and that's what it takes, especially at this point in the year. We had the win. If we can get ourselves another win, it would be huge. But the biggest thing is don't do something stupid and knock ourselves out of this Chase."
Stewart and ninth-place Brad Keselowski are in great shape to qualify for the Chase, with each driver scoring three wins already for the season. Keselowski won at Kentucky, and then Stewart claimed the victory at Daytona.
However, Stewart received a loss of six points as part of his team's penalty for an illegal open vent hose discovered in his car during post-qualifying inspection at Daytona.
Last year, Stewart was almost flawless at New Hampshire. He finished second to teammate Ryan Newman in the July race and then won the fall event. Stewart's win there last September was his second of five victories in last season's Chase.
Kevin Harvick is tied with Stewart in points (586), while Denny Hamlin and Bowyer's teammate, Martin Truex Jr., are just two markers behind them. Keselowski is only one point ahead of Bowyer.
Kyle Busch presently holds the first wild card spot. Busch is 12th in the standings (-56 points behind Bowyer) and has one win (Richmond spring race). Joey Logano occupies the final wild card position, based on his victory at Pocono and 14th in points (-69 from 10th place).
Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne sit third and fourth, respectively, in the wild card standings. Newman, currently 15th in the rankings, won at Martinsville, and Kahne, 16th, took the checkered flag at Charlotte.
Eleventh-place Carl Edwards and 13th-place Paul Menard have yet to win a race this season. Edwards trails Bowyer by 31 points heading into New Hampshire.
Like Bowyer, Newman is glad New Hampshire is the next race on the schedule. He has three wins there, including his first career Cup victory in the fall of 2002.
"I used to say New Hampshire was my least favorite racetrack, but it's far from that now," Newman said. "It's still not my favorite racetrack, but I really look forward to coming back there each year. New Hampshire has always been a good place for me. I'm not 100 percent sure why. It's the place of my first win, and when I hadn't won in a long while, 70-some races, I won again there. Last July, we were able to qualify and finish 1-2 at Stewart-Haas. So, I really look forward to it."
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301.
F.W. Webb 200 - New Hampshire Motor Speedway - Loudon, NH
The "Dash 4 Cash" is back in the Nationwide Series this season, beginning with Saturday's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Elliott Sadler, rookie Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael Annett are those drivers eligible for the $100,000 bonus from Nationwide Insurance, the title sponsor of NASCAR's second-tier series.
Sadler, Dillon and Stenhouse gained eligibility since they are currently the top-three drivers in the point standings. A fourth member presently in the top-10 in points qualifies as well. Michael Annett, sixth in the rankings, earned the last spot for New Hampshire, based on his career-best finishes in his past two starts -- fourth at Kentucky and third at Daytona.
The top-finisher of the four eligible drivers at New Hampshire will receive the $100,000 cash award and will qualify for the bonus in the next round, which is July 22 at Chicagoland Speedway. Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 28) and Iowa Speedway (August 4) are rounds three and four.
If the same driver is the top-finisher in each of those four rounds, and is the race winner at Iowa, that person's total winnings will reach $1 million.
Sadler comes to New Hampshire with an eight-point lead over Dillon, his Richard Childress Racing teammate, and an 18-point advantage over Stenhouse, the defending Nationwide champion.
"This is definitely a track that I feel we will have a strong run," Sadler said.
Dillon's team is hoping New Hampshire won't be the third straight race they receive penalties for rules infractions. Dillon has been docked a total of 12 points for violations that occurred at Kentucky and Daytona. An illegal open vent hose was discovered in his car during post-qualifying inspection at Daytona. His Kentucky race-winning car was found to be too low during inspection after the event.
Danny Stockman Jr., the crew chief for Dillon's No. 3 RCR team, and Robert Strmiska, the car chief, have been suspended from NASCAR competition until July 25 for violating their probation. They were placed on probation for infractions that occurred in April at Richmond.
Dillon's lone Nationwide race at New Hampshire came in 2010 when he finished 25th. He placed second in last year's Camping World Truck Series race there. Dillon captured the 2011 truck championship before graduating to Nationwide full-time this season.
"We've run really well at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the past," Dillon said. "Last year, we had a truck capable of winning. We ran behind or beside Kyle Busch the whole race. We raced under him a few times. I learned a lot from racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and hopefully we can use that experience to our advantage this weekend."
Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray are those Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in this race.
Busch, the Nationwide race winner at New Hampshire the past three years, is driving his own No. 54 Toyota in this event. His elder brother, Kurt, gave the team its first Nationwide win at Richmond.
"Richmond worked out well for Kurt," Kyle Busch said. "We've put ourselves in position to win a few more times, but we have to avoid catastrophe and limit our mistakes in order to finish the deal. What (crew chief Mike) Beam and the team have built so far has proven to be competitive. I know (the win) will happen. It's just a matter of time."
Forty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for the F.W. Webb 200.
Camping World Truck Series
American Ethanol 200 - Iowa Speedway - Newton, IA
While the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series compete at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the Camping World Truck Series races at Iowa Speedway this weekend. No drivers are scheduled to do the New Hampshire/Iowa combo.
Timothy Peters comes to the "Hawkeye State" with a four-point lead over Justin Lofton and rookie Ty Dillon, while James Buescher is nine points behind. Buescher won the most recent truck race two weeks ago at Kentucky.
Peters, who drives the No. 17 Toyota for Red Horse Racing, has recorded seven top-10 finishes in the first eight races this season. He finished 11th last month at Texas. His average finishing position is 6.0.
"I think it's a team effort," Peters said. "We have taken what we have and really made the best of it, going out to get the best finish that our Toyota Tundra can give us. All the guys work hard, and I try to not mess up where they are making gains. Our pit crew has also done a great job on pit road. I've always been the type of racer not to jeopardize the equipment. We really want to get those wins, and I think we will start soon."
Can Peters' maintain his momentum at Iowa?
He finished eighth in his first truck start at this 0.875-mile racetrack in 2009 but has placed 11th and 27th there the past two years.
"I really like Iowa Speedway," he said. "It's a short track with a mile and half type speed. It's a unique racetrack. I'm always a fan of short tracks when I go back. It's where I started racing and always provides a really good show."
Lofton finished 15th at Iowa in 2010 and 12th there last year.
Dillon will compete in a truck race at Iowa for the first time. He won last year's ARCA Series event there.
"Iowa has always been a great track for me," Dillon said. "If I had to pick a favorite race track, Iowa would win."
Dillon has finished no worse than 10th so far this year, while Buescher is the only repeat winner. Buescher's first career truck victory came in April at Kansas.
Matt Crafton won last year's Iowa truck race. Crafton is presently sixth in the point standings (-42).
Thirty-nine teams are on the preliminary entry list for the American Ethanol 200. The series will compete at Iowa again on September 15.
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