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This Week in Auto Racing Aug. 30 - Sept. 1

4:55 AM, Aug 30, 2013   |    comments
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Hampton, GA (Sports Network) - The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are running at Atlanta Motor Speedway, while the Camping World Truck Series is competing in Canada for the first time at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The IndyCar Series is racing on the streets of Baltimore.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

AdvoCare 500 - Atlanta Motor Speedway - Hampton, Ga.

With two races to go before the regular season concludes, just three drivers have punched their tickets into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Jimmie Johnson, the current points leader, and Clint Bowyer, who is second in the standings, have clinched a top-10 spot in the Chase. Matt Kenseth secured at least a wild card position with his fifth win of the season last weekend at Bristol.

Several more drivers are expected to lock down their playoff spots on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Chase cut-off race is Sept. 7 at Richmond.

The magic number for this weekend at Atlanta is 49, meaning any driver 49 points ahead of 11th will clinch a top-10 spot in the Chase. A 38th-place finish or better for Carl Edwards will earn him a position, and a 31st-place run or higher for Kevin Harvick will put him in the playoffs. Kyle Busch can clinch a top-10 if he finishes 10th or better.

Kenseth is currently sixth in points. If he finishes seventh or higher at Atlanta, he earns a top-10 spot for the Chase.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano are seventh through 10th, respectively, in points. Martin Truex Jr. (14th in points) and Ryan Newman (15th) hold the two wild cards right now.

The separation between Earnhardt and 11th-place Brad Keselowski is 33 points. Earnhardt, Kahne, Biffle and Logano all conceivably could reach the 49-point magic number.

Logano has been on a roll lately, scoring five consecutive top-10 finishes, including a victory on Aug. 18 at Michigan. He has moved up eight positions in the standings since the July 28 race at Indianapolis. Logano is only four points ahead of Keselowski, his Penske Racing teammate.

"We have clawed our way into the top-10 in points from 19th twice this year," Logano said. "That's huge. That's how you prove you don't give up. So these guys on this (No. 22 Penske Racing) team, they deserve to be in the top-10 and in the Chase."

Logano has struggled at Atlanta, finishing no better than 18th in his six races here. This is his first season with Penske after spending the past four years with Joe Gibbs Racing.

"We plan on doing nothing different at Atlanta," he said. "We want to just keep doing what we have been doing. We have been fighting back all year long, so if we go into the weekend with the same mindset, then we will hopefully continue to perform at the level we have been.

"We have put ourselves in the position that we need to be right now. So now we just need to build on it. Keep gaining points and keep getting the best finish that we can. That's how we are going to go into these final two weeks. The Chase is our ultimate goal."

Keselowski won five races en route to the Sprint Cup Series championship last year, but he has yet to score a victory this season. He is coming off a 30th- place finish at Bristol.

"I'm not gonna be out of the worried zone unless I make it or it's over, and that's my job as a race car driver," Keselowski said after he dropped from eighth to 11th in points at Bristol. "We've got two races left, and I think they'll be good racetracks for us."

Keselowski is confident that he will make the Chase for the third year in a row. He qualified for the 2011 playoffs with a wild card spot. Keselowski has finished third and sixth in the last two races at Atlanta.

"We've tested at the next two tracks, and we're gonna be very competitive," Keselowski said. "I feel like this is gonna come down to the last lap at Richmond, and I'm ready for that battle."

Kurt Busch is trying to put Furniture Row Racing, a single-car team, in the Chase for the first time. Busch had a setback at Bristol, where he finished 31st and dropped from ninth to 12th in the standings. He is just six points behind Logano.

"We need to take care of our own business and not worry about anything else," Busch said. "The Chase has been a goal of our single-car team all year, and right now we're on the doorstep, ready to kick in that door."

Earlier this week, Stewart-Haas Racing formally announced that Busch will drive a fourth car for the team, starting in 2014. He will be teammates with Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick.

Jeff Gordon trails Logano by 11 points, but Gordon has not won a race this season. Last year, he won the August event at Pocono and then finished second at both Atlanta and Richmond to clinch a wild card. He has won at Atlanta five times, most recently in 2011.

"We just need to do our job and get the best results possible these next two races and see how things shake out," Gordon said.

Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the AdvoCare 500.

Nationwide Series

Great Clips/Grit Chips 300 - Atlanta Motor Speedway - Hampton, Ga.

There's one thing that Kyle Busch has yet to do in the Nationwide Series -- win a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Busch claimed his 60th career Nationwide victory last week at Bristol. But none of his wins have come at Atlanta, where he has nine previous starts. He has finished second four times at this fast 1.54-mile racetrack, including three in a row from 2009-11. He posted a seventh-place run here one year ago.

"You never know what you are going to get with the track surface there," Busch said. "We have to be careful with our setup so the tires will last. (Crew chief) Adam (Stevens) and the team will bring me a fast car I'm sure, so we'll tackle it and see if we can't bring home a victory."

Busch is one of four Sprint Cup Series regulars scheduled to compete in Saturday night's 300-mile race at Atlanta. Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano are the others. Logano has two Nationwide wins this season.

The Nationwide points battle continues to be a tight one, with a 40-point separation between leader Sam Hornish Jr. and sixth-place Brian Vickers. Austin Dillon is just six points behind Hornish, while Elliott Sadler is 11 markers out of the lead. Regan Smith is fourth in the standings (-24), followed by Justin Allgaier (-39).

Hornish, Dillon, Sadler and Allgaier all finished in the top-10 in last year's Nationwide race at Atlanta.

Forty-two teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Great Clips/Grit Chips 300.

Camping World Truck Series

Chevrolet Silverado 250 - Canadian Tire Motorsport Park -- Bowmanville, Canada

For the first time in its history, the Camping World Truck Series is competing outside of the United States.

The Truck Series is in Canada this weekend. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, which is located roughly one hour east of Toronto, is a 2.459-mile, 10-turn road course.

This course has hosted the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series since 2007. The track is co-owned by Ron Fellows, who is no stranger to stock car racing. Fellows has won six times in NASCAR national series competition, including twice in trucks. Both of his victories in the series came at Watkins Glen, N.Y.

"The Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, like most grand prix courses, has long, fast corners, and it has more elevation than Watkins Glen, probably just a little bit faster at cornering, but very, very similar," Fellows said. "I think that it will make for a great race. There are opportunities to pass, because with these long, sweeping corners, you can capitalize on small mistakes, and that's what you want to have."

The 64-lap race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park marks the first time trucks have raced at a road course since June 2000 at Watkins Glen.

Ron Hornaday Jr. is the only series regular entered in this race that has previous truck road-course experience. Three of Hornaday's 51 career victories in the series have come at road courses -- Topeka's Heartland Park in Kansas (1995), Sonoma Raceway ('95) and Watkins Glen ('96). His most recent race at a course was in 1999 at Watkins Glen.

Hornaday is a four-time champion in the series. He drives the No. 9 Chevrolet for NTS Motorsports.

"I have won road-course races in the past, and I really like competing on these types of tracks," said Hornaday, who has 14 career road-course starts in trucks. "I haven't been to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, but I have been using track maps and video to study the new venue."

This Canadian road course is the second new venue on this year's truck schedule. The series raced at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio on July 24. Austin Dillon won the inaugural event there.

Thirty-one teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Chevrolet Silverado 250.

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES

Grand Prix of Baltimore - Streets of Baltimore - Baltimore, Md.

The 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season is down to if final four races, beginning with this weekend's event on the streets of downtown Baltimore.

After last Sunday's dramatic race in Sonoma, Calif. Helio Castroneves widened his lead in the point standings to 39 over Scott Dixon. Castroneves finished seventh. Dixon placed 15th following a controversial penalty that was assessed to him by race officials for making contact with one of Will Power's crew members on pit road late in the event.

Dixon had led the most laps with 27 and was in front of the field when he was penalized for a pit-lane safety violation. The penalty cost Dixon a chance to win the race and trim Castroneves' lead in the championship standings. Castroneves came to Sonoma with a 31-point advantage.

With 15 of 19 races completed, Castroneves has only one finish outside the top-10 this season. He placed 13th in Brazil, his home country. Castroneves has only one win this year, which came at Texas.

"I still feel it's going to be a battle all the way to the end," Castroneves said. "We've been able to hold on to the lead in the points, and even add to it a little bit over the last couple of races, but I know how tough these guys are. No one is giving up and with four races left. There's so many points still out there. We need to keep on it, keep doing what we've been doing and hopefully we can stay out in front with a strong weekend here at Baltimore."

There are 13 drivers who mathematically remain eligible for the championship. Any driver who trails the leader by 163 points or more following Baltimore will be eliminated from title contention.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, the defending IndyCar champion, is currently 62 points behind Castroneves. Marco Andretti is fourth in points (-70), followed by Simon Pagenaud (-99) and Dario Franchitti (-100).

One year ago, Power came to Baltimore with a 36-point lead over Hunter-Reay. Baltimore was the penultimate race. The series wrapped up the 2012 season two weeks later in Fontana, Calif.

Hunter-Reay won at Baltimore and cut Power's lead to just 17. He went on to win the championship in Fontana, beating Power by just three points.

"Last year, this is where, I think, I won the championship, and it's another pivotal weekend for our championship race for 2013," Hunter-Reay said. "We've got a points gap to close, and this is a huge opportunity for us prior to heading to a double race weekend at Houston (Oct. 5-6)."

Power put his season back on track with a win at Sonoma. It was his first victory since April 2012 in Brazil. He is now eighth in points (-123).

"It was just good to finally get a win," Power said. "Things haven't gone our way a lot this year. It's just been a strange season, and it really makes you appreciate how hard it is to win in the IndyCar Series. But I think we've continued to show that we have a fast car and can run up front, so it was good to break through and get that first win of the year. Now, it would be good to take advantage of that momentum and make it two in a row."

Power won the inaugural race at Baltimore in 2011. He started on the pole and put on a dominating performance by leading 70 of 75 laps. Power finished sixth in last year's race there.

Twenty-four teams are on the entry list for the Grand Prix of Baltimore.

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