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This Week in Auto Racing Oct. 18 - 20

3:05 PM, Oct 18, 2013   |    comments
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Talladega, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - Round six in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship takes place at Talladega Superspeedway. The Camping World Truck Series will join Sprint Cup at Talladega. IndyCar will wrap up its season at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

Camping World RV Sales 500 - Talladega Superspeedway - Talladega, Ala.

The one track on the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup that concerns the championship contenders the most is Talladega Superspeedway.

Talladega, a 2.66-mile racetrack, is known as the wild card event in the Chase, and it could shake up the point standings in a big way. Next week, the series will run at Martinsville, which is another unpredictable race since its the only short track in the playoffs.

"Talladega and Martinsville, they keep me up at night," said Carl Edwards, who is one of the drivers in this year's Chase. "You don't know what's going to happen at those places. Those are the wild cards in the Chase."

Heading into Talladega, the sixth race in the Chase, Matt Kenseth holds just a four-point lead over Jimmie Johnson. Kevin Harvick is third in the points standings (-29), followed by Jeff Gordon (-36), Kyle Busch (-37), Greg Biffle (-58) and Kurt Busch (-59).

Eighth through 13th are: Clint Bowyer (-63), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-66), Edwards (-67), Joey Logano (-75), Ryan Newman (-78) and Kasey Kahne (-81).

When the series most recently competed at Talladega in May, Kenseth had the dominant car, leading a total of 142 laps. A major crash involving a dozen drivers occurred on the backstretch in the closing laps, which set up a green- white-checkered finish. Kenseth led the way for the final restart, but Edwards moved ahead of him to take the top spot heading into the final lap.

With pushing help from his Front Row Motorsports teammate, David Gilliland, David Ragan passed Edwards for the lead in turn 4 on the last lap. Ragan went on to win the race, while Gilliland crossed the line in second and Edwards third. Kenseth ended up finishing eighth.

"If we have the speed that we had the first time (this year) at Talladega, I look forward to that because we led pretty much all day," Kenseth said. "But I ended up figuring out how to mess it up on that last green-white-checkered there. We were leading on the last lap and got beat. I wasn't in the right spot."

Kenseth has performed well at Talladega and Daytona -- the two restrictor- plate tracks -- in the past. He won last year's Chase race at Talladega, in his final season with Roush Fenway Racing. Kenseth also won the 2012 Daytona 500.

Johnson has been very impressive in the restrictor-plate races this year. He scored a season-sweep at Daytona and finished fifth at Talladega in the spring.

"Honestly, I'll be anxious to get out of (Talladega)," Johnson said. "I'm just ready for it to happen, and go on and race from there. Last year, I don't think we finished a restrictor-plate race, and this year, we've had two wins and the other was in the top-five. So, I hope this trend of top-five finishes stays alive in Talladega. That's what we're going to need."

Johnson finished 17th at Talladega one year ago. The five-time Sprint Cup champion entered that race five points behind leader Brad Keselowski, but after he was involved in a 25-car accident that happened on the final lap, he trailed Keselowski by 14 points.

Keselowski finished seventh at Talladega and later won the series championship. Johnson finished third in points (-40).

The winner at Talladega has grabbed the lead on the last lap in six of the previous seven Sprint Cup races here.

Tony Stewart led the way during the final lap of last year's Chase event at Talladega, but Stewart triggered the big one when he made contact with Michael Waltrip. Earnhardt, who was caught up in the wreck, suffered his second concussion within a six-week period. He missed the next two races in the Chase -- Charlotte and Kansas.

"The one track that I probably look forward to the least is Talladega," Earnhardt said. "The track can be a bit of a lottery on how you finish and how that affects your points. I really like racing at Talladega, but that track being a part of the Chase, it's really a guessing game on what's going to happen to you there."

Earnhardt has five wins at Talladega, including four in a row from October 2001 to April 2003. He has not won a race here since the fall of 2004. His late-father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., holds the record for most victories at this track with 10.

Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six wins at Talladega, including a season-sweep in 2007. Gordon has 12 career restrictor-plate race victories, which is more than any other driver. He finished second at this track last fall.

"With the big-pack racing, there is always the chance of the big one," Gordon said. "You have to approach this race with a positive attitude, fight to avoid whatever may occur and hope that you come out of it with a race car. It doesn't even need to be in one piece. It just needs to get across the (finish) line with a decent finish."

Forty-four teams are on the entry list for the Camping World RV Sales 500.

Camping World Truck Series

Fred's 250 - Talladega Superspeedway - Talladega, Ala.

After taking the last two weekends off, the Camping World Truck Series will resume its schedule on Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Talladega is the second and final restrictor-plate race for the series this year. Johnny Sauter won the season-opener at Daytona in February.

There are five races to go. After Talladega, the series heads to Martinsville (Oct. 26), Texas (Nov. 1) and then Phoenix (Nov. 8) before the season concludes at Homestead (Nov. 15).

Matt Crafton currently holds a 41-point lead over defending series champion James Buescher. Ty Dillon is 53 points out of the lead. Crafton had finished in the top-10 in each of the first 16 races before placing 11th in the Sept. 28 event at Las Vegas.

"We've just got to keep doing what we've been doing," Crafton said. "We can't go to a points-racing mode or just riding around or anything stupid like that. We've just got to keep on doing what we've been doing, which is racing to win each and every week, being aggressive when we can be, but above all, being smart."

Crafton will leave Talladega as the points leader, regardless of where he finishes. No points leader has won at this track since the series began racing here in 2006. The closest to do that was Ron Hornaday Jr. in 2008 when he finished second. Crafton's lone win this season came in April at Kansas. His best finish in seven races at Talladega is fourth, which came in 2010.

Kyle Busch is the only Sprint Cup Series regular who is competing in this race. Busch has two truck wins at Talladega -- 2009 and '10.

Earlier this year at Daytona, Busch ran behind Sauter in second on the final lap. He was setting up to pass Sauter, but a four-truck wreck occurred on the frontstretch, which ended the race under caution.

"I think in the past you always heard people talking about wanting to be running second at a superspeedway race with one to go and then you come off Turn 4 and slingshot your way to the win," Busch said. "With all the big accidents that seem to happen on the final lap -- especially in the Truck Series where maybe the guys running these races don't have as much experience in the draft or with the tandem whichever plays out at the end of the race -- I think you are probably better off being in the lead.

"At Daytona earlier this year I thought I was right where I wanted to be, running second behind Sauter, just biding my time and waiting to make my move at the end. Then all the sudden a wreck broke out behind us, and I never got the chance to make the pass."

Thirty-eight teams are on the entry list for the Fred's 250.

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES

MAVTV 500 - Auto Club Speedway - Fontana, Calif.

The 2013 IndyCar Series season concludes on Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway, as Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves are set to battle for the championship.

Dixon enters the season-finale with a 25-point lead over Castroneves. This will be the eighth consecutive year that the series title will be decided in the last race. Fontana is hosting the season-ending event for the second straight time.

Two weeks ago, Castroneves came to Houston for IndyCar's doubleheader weekend with a season-high 49-point advantage over Dixon. Castroneves had scored 12 straight top-10 finishes, including a victory in June at Texas Motor Speedway, but the Team Penske driver had a frustrating weekend in Houston, finishing 18th in the first race and 23rd in the second event. He experienced a gearbox problem in the early going of each race.

Dixon finished first and second at Houston. If Dixon finishes fifth or better in Fontana, he will clinch his third IndyCar championship, regardless of what Castroneves does. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver won the series title in 2003 and '08.

"I think for us the easiest way to approach it is how we typically approach a race weekend, and that's to go there setting our sights on winning it," Dixon said. "If we can achieve that, then it makes the championship story just sort of unfold. It'll be a tough situation...It's not going to be easy by any means and something that we're going to have to fight to the bitter end. We'll go into the weekend obviously trying to achieve a win."

Dixon won his previous championships five years apart. It's been five years since his most recent title.

"You can't rely on stats like that, especially for us," he said. "Every year we compete, we try to win the championship, and I think definitely over the last five or six years we've had a good shot sort of going into the last one each of those years."

In 2009, Dixon entered the season-finale in Homestead, Fla. with a four-point lead over Dario Franchitti, his teammate at Ganassi, but Franchitti claimed the championship by winning the race there. He concluded the season with an 11-point margin over Dixon, who finished third in the race.

Castroneves has yet to win an IndyCar championship. He finished second in the standings in 2002 (20 points behind Sam Hornish Jr.) and '08 (17 points behind Dixon).

"At this point, I feel that I have nothing to lose, so there is no pressure, to be honest, you just go for it," Castroneves said. "We're going to look for our best result, and on the ovals, try to replicate what we did in Texas, and hopefully we'll be successful."

Last year, IndyCar competed at this two-mile Southern California racetrack for the first time since 2005. Ed Carpenter won the race, while Dixon finished third and Castroneves placed fifth. Ryan Hunter-Reay's fourth-place run allowed him to clinch the title. Hunter-Reay beat Will Power by only three points. Power finished 24th after crashing early in the event.

Three weeks ago, several IndyCar teams participated in a manufacturers' test at Auto Club Speedway.

"We had a fantastic test, and we were really fast," Castroneves said. "I was extremely happy with the performance of the car in Fontana. We just hope we continue with that, and it will bring us a successful result."

The manufacturers' championship is still very much up for grabs. Chevrolet and Honda are tied in points. Both took their ninth win of the season by splitting the doubleheader in Houston.

Alex Tagliani will substitute for Franchitti in Ganassi's No. 10 car. Franchitti suffered multiple injuries during an accident on the final lap of the second Houston race.

On Friday, Andretti Autosport announced that Carlos Munoz will take over for E.J. Viso in the No. 5 car for this race. Viso is absent due to an undisclosed illness. Munoz, an Indy Lights competitor, has competed in two IndyCar races this season. He started and finished second in the May 26 Indianapolis 500.

Twenty-five teams are on the entry list for the MAVTV 500.

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