This Week in Auto Racing Sept. 20 - 22

11:25 AM, Sep 20, 2013   |    comments
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Loudon, NH (Sports Network) - New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosts round 2 in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. The Nationwide Series is racing at Kentucky Speedway. Formula One returns to Asia for the Singapore Grand Prix.


Sprint Cup Series

Sylvania 300 - New Hampshire Motor Speedway - Loudon, N.H.

Entering the second round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, Matt Kenseth will celebrate a career milestone this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Kenseth is expected to make his 500th start in NASCAR's premier series. His Cup debut came on Sept. 20, 1998 at Dover, finishing sixth. He substituted for Bill Elliott so Elliott could attend his father's funeral. Kenseth made five more Cup starts in 1999 before his rookie season in 2000.

"All this really means is that I'm old," Kenseth jokingly said. "I'm proud having 500 starts. I remember making my first one, and I wasn't sure if I was going to even be able to make a second one. It's a very tough business, so I feel very fortunate to have been with such great people, and to have driven such great cars and had fantastic sponsors throughout my career to be able to still be in this sport and competitive after this many seasons."

Kenseth kicked off the Chase last Sunday with a victory at Chicagoland, a race delayed more than six hours due to rain. He currently holds an eight-point lead over Kyle Busch, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, and an 11-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson.

In his first season with JGR, Kenseth has scored a series-leading and career- high six victories. He's attempting to win his second Cup championship. His first title came in 2003.

After winning at Chicagoland, Kenseth has established himself as the Chase favorite. He will become the series champion if history repeats itself. The winner at Chicagoland, the first race in the Chase, went on to capture the title the previous two years (Tony Stewart in 2011 and Brad Keselowski in 2012).

"I think it's too early to really pick favorites," Kenseth said. "I think there's a ton of competition. When you look at the finishing position last Sunday, 10 of the top-12 were all drivers in the Chase."

Kenseth has struggled somewhat at New Hampshire in the past, recording just two top-10 finishes in his last 11 races here. His average finish over that span has been 18.6. He did finish ninth after leading 33 laps in his first race with JGR at this track in July. Kenseth's best finish at New Hampshire is second, which came in September 2004.

Busch finished second at Chicagoland. He also finished in the runner-up spot at New Hampshire earlier this season.

"There's still nine more weeks - nine long weeks to go," Busch said. "But I know this team is focused, and we'll try to have another good race at New Hampshire and keep up some positive momentum from last week."

Johnson has scored three wins and 16 top-10 finishes in his 23 starts at New Hampshire. He finished second here one year ago and placed sixth in the July race.

Kevin Harvick is presently fourth in points (-15), followed by Carl Edwards (-23) and Kurt Busch (-23). Busch, in his lone season with Furniture Row Racing before he moves over to Stewart-Haas Racing next year, finished fourth at Chicagoland.

"It's been an amazing ride, and to make the Chase with a single-car team was a nice accomplishment and something very gratifying, and now here we are one week into it and we have a nice top-5 finish," Busch said. "We need nine more of those along with a win. So I'm looking forward to the challenge. What keeps me even more hungry this year is that we haven't won yet, and I know we're capable of doing it, and here it is. The Chase, it's the most important time to win, so it would be great to see it all come together."

Busch won the inaugural Chase championship in 2004. His only win during the 10-race playoff stretch that year came at New Hampshire.

Forty-three teams are on the entry list for the Sylvania 300.

Nationwide Series

Kentucky 300 - Kentucky Speedway - Sparta, Ky.

While the Sprint Cup Series competes at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the Nationwide Series is running its last stand-alone race of the season this weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

Sam Hornish Jr. holds a 17-point lead over Austin Dillon with seven races to go. Regan Smith is 36 points behind Hornish, while Elliott Sadler trails by 44. After Kentucky, the series heads to Dover, Kansas, Charlotte, Texas and Phoenix before the season wraps up at Homestead.

Five of the last seven races will be contested on 1.5-mile racetracks, including Kentucky. Hornish won at Las Vegas in March and finished ninth at Kentucky in June. He's also placed third in the two most recent mile-and-a- half tracks (Atlanta and Chicagoland).

"We have been strong on the intermediate tracks this year," Hornish said. "We still have a little room for improvement in terms of getting the car where we need it to be at the end of the race, so we can go after the win. We have to be smart and yet still have the tempered aggression that it takes to win. The points battle is so close that we have to be mindful of whom we are racing. We've come a long way, but a lot can happen over the next seven races."

Dillon has been superb at Kentucky. He has an average finish of 2.667 in his three Nationwide races here. He won both events last year before finishing sixth earlier this season at this track. Dillon has started on the pole in each of the last three races at Kentucky.

"This battle has been really tight this year, and it's really anyone's championship to win," Dillon said. "I've really enjoyed battling with Sam Hornish, Jr all year, along with the other competitors. I've had some success at Kentucky Speedway in the past, so I hope I can capitalize this weekend and gain some points. Everyone has been so close all year, though, that it's going to take someone making a mistake in order for one of us to gain any points."

There are no Sprint Cup Series regulars scheduled to compete in this race. Five full-time Camping World Truck Series drivers are among the 42 on the entry list -- Dakoda Armstrong, Ryan Blaney, Jeb Burton, Joey Coulter and Matt Crafton.


Singapore Grand Prix - Marina Bay Street Circuit - Singapore

Formula One is running under the lights this weekend in Singapore.

The 61-lap Singapore Grand Prix, which is contested on the Marina Bay Street Circuit, is considered one of the longest and toughest races on the F1 calendar. It's also the only event of the season that starts and finishes at nighttime.

With seven races to go, Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull holds a comfortable 53- point lead over Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and an 81-point advantage over Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes. Vettel, the three-time defending F1 world champion, Alonso and Hamilton are the only drivers who have won in Singapore since the racing circuit began competing here in 2008.

Vettel has won the last two events on this 3.259-mile, 23-turn temporary street circuit. His victory here one year ago began a four-race winning streak. After Singapore, he won in Japan, Korea and India. Vettel claimed the 2012 F1 title by just three points over Alonso.

"My wins in 2011 and 2012 were the best, because I think it's one of the toughest races of the year," Vettel said. "It's a very long race. The full two hours of the race just seems to go on forever. The circuit itself is a killer, because there are so many bumps. There's no room for mistakes."

Vettel has six wins this season, including victories in the last two grand prix (Belgium and Italy).

Alonso won the inaugural Singapore GP five years ago when he drove for Renault. His second victory here came in 2010, his first season with Ferrari. He has finished no worse than fourth at this circuit.

"This is a very demanding race from the physical point of view and also mentally, because as it takes place at night, it changes your rhythm a bit over the weekend," Alonso said. "It's a very special race with no room for mistakes, but it's a track I like and where I have usually gone quite well, getting four podiums from five starts. So again this year, I'm tackling the weekend in a positive frame of mind, with great confidence that I can do well again."

Hamilton won the Singapore GP in 2009, driving for McLaren.

After winning four consecutive poles, Hamilton qualified 12th for the Italian GP two weeks ago. It was his worst qualifying result of the season. He finished ninth in that race. Hamilton placed third in Belgium one week after he scored his first victory of the year and with Mercedes in Hungary.

"We've had a tough couple of weekends in Belgium and Italy, but I know that everyone at the team is determined to bounce back from here and make the most of the opportunities over the last seven races of the season," Hamilton said.

Three of the last four Singapore GPs have been won from the pole position. Vettel's victory in it last year came from the third starting spot.

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