This Week in Auto Racing July 5 - 7

6:58 PM, Jul 4, 2013   |    comments
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Daytona Beach, FL (Sports Network) - The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series return to Daytona International Speedway, while the IndyCar Series runs at Pocono Raceway and Formula One competes in Germany.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

Coke Zero 400 - Daytona International Speedway - Daytona Beach, Fla.

The Sprint Cup Series and its new race car, the Gen-6, return to Daytona International Speedway.

In February, the Gen-6 wasn't exactly a hit in the season-opening Daytona 500. The somewhat disappointing 500-mile race here featured just 28 lead changes due to a lack of passing. There were long periods of drivers running in single file before things got dicey in the closing laps.

Jimmie Johnson won the Daytona 500, while his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished second. It was the second time Johnson had won it, with his first coming in 2006.

The series ran its second restrictor-place race of the season on May 5 at Talladega. David Ragan pulled off a stunning victory there after he passed Carl Edwards for the lead on the final lap. There were 30 lead changes at Talladega, which was extended from 188 laps to 192 due to a big crash in the closing laps.

Saturday night's 400-mile race at Daytona will be different than the first two restrictor-plate events this season. When the series runs at Daytona in July, the event is shorter and it's under the lights. The heat and humidity are a factor as well.

"It's a shorter race and at night, so it will carry through any handling issues that maybe exist," said Johnson, who has yet to win the July event at Daytona. "I really feel like the vehicle, itself, at Daytona, we can't get away from one another and the side-drafting is so big that it created some of the racing we saw in February.

"I thought Talladega was much more exciting due to the fact the track was wider and, when somebody would try to side-draft you, you could move away from them and get away and not let it have that big of an effect."

Johnson points out that drivers tend to run in single file for a majority of the race at restrictor-plate tracks before it gets wild in the closing stages.

"There are a lot of times we are running single file, because we just want to get 350 miles in of a 400-mile race before you crash," he said. "You work too hard to go down there and crash 10 or 15 laps into the race. A lot of times the single-file racing is just due to the drivers being patient."

Johnson will attempt to become the first driver to score a season-sweep at Daytona since Bobby Allison last did it in 1982. There have been seven different winners in the last seven Sprint Cup races at this track.

Ragan's first career victory in the series came at Daytona in July 2011 when he drove for Roush Fenway Racing. He is in his second season with Front Row Motorsports.

"Daytona is a special place in general, but certainly having been to victory lane there makes it extra special," Ragan said. "You've got confidence going into that race, knowing that you've been there, you've done that, you know when to go hard and when to be conservative."

The 400-mile race at Daytona figures to be a wild affair once again. It also could have an impact in the Chase for the Sprint Cup wild card battle. Four drivers that are currently ranked between 11th-20th in points -- Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray -- have won a race at Daytona in the past. Ragan is presently 29th in points.

McMurray finished second last Sunday at Kentucky and moved from 21st to 19th in the point standings. He won the July race at Daytona in 2007 and the Daytona 500 in 2010.

"Hopefully, we can carry the momentum of a strong run and a second-place finish at Kentucky to Daytona," McMurray said. "Daytona is usually a race that is about being lucky and staying out of trouble to be in contention at the end. Our team has been strong here in the past, and I expect we will be the same this weekend. But we will need to have some luck fall our way to bring home good finish."

Stewart is a four-time and defending winner of the July race at Daytona.

Forty-three teams are on the entry list for the Coke Zero 400.

Nationwide Series

Subway Firecracker 250 - Daytona International Speedway - Daytona Beach, Fla.

The "Dash 4 Cash" is back in the Nationwide Series.

Friday night's 250-mile race at Daytona International Speedway is the first of four events in this year's bonus program from Nationwide Insurance, which is the title sponsor of NASCAR's second-tier series.

Elliott Sadler, Brian Vickers, Austin Dillon and rookie Kyle Larson are those drivers eligible for a $100,000 bonus at Daytona. They were the top-four, point-eligible finishers in last weekend's Nationwide event at Kentucky.

Of the four eligible drivers, the one who finishes highest in the Daytona race will win the cash award and automatically qualify for the next event at New Hampshire (July 13). The three other highest finishing series regulars at Daytona also will qualify to compete for the bonus next week.

The last two Dash 4 Cash races take place at Chicagoland (July 21) and Indianapolis (July 27).

"I can't think of a more wild race to put it in than right here at Daytona," Sadler said. "We're looking forward to being a part of it, and we're very honored to be a part of the first Dash 4 Cash. We want to try to win that money and set ourselves up for the next race."

If one driver wins the bonus at Daytona, New Hampshire and Chicagoland and then scores the victory in the Indianapolis race, he will be awarded $600,000, totaling $1 million in winnings.

"Daytona is probably not the ideal place you'd want to go for a $100,000, because there's so much playing into it, but there's only three other guys that I'm racing against for it," Dillon said. "It is a wild one, for sure. I think your percentage of winning is about flat with all three guys here, because it takes a lot of other things out of it. So it's more about positioning and being there at the end."

Dillon and Sadler collected the $100,000 bonus last year at New Hampshire and Chicagoland, respectively. They were teammates at Richard Childress Racing at the time. Sadler now drives for Joe Gibbs Racing and is teammates with Vickers.

"Hopefully at the end of the day, we're in a position to race for it," Vickers said. "Nothing would make Elliott and me happier than if we were both tandem- drafting to the finish line for the win and the pack is 10-car lengths behind us."

When Larson made his Nationwide debut in February at Daytona, he was involved in a horrifying accident that occurred on the frontstretch during the final lap. Larson's car flipped around and sailed into the catch fence before coming back down on the track. Dozens of race fans in the grandstands were injured, some of them seriously, from flying debris that came from his car and the fence.

"I ran well in the ARCA race in February, and I was competing for the win in the Nationwide race before it turned into one of those wild finishes that Daytona is known for," Larson said. "I feel like I was so close to winning in both of the races I ran there earlier this year."

In wake of the accident, the crossover gate areas at both Daytona and Talladega were reinforced as part of new safety measures.

Forty-two teams are on the entry list for the Subway Firecracker 250. Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano are those Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in this race.

IZOD IndyCar Series

Pocono INDYCAR 400 - Pocono Raceway - Long Pond, Pa.

For the first time in 24 years, Pocono Raceway is hosting an open-wheel race.

The IndyCar Series will run a 400-mile race at this unique 2.5-mile triangular racetrack on Sunday. Twenty-four teams tested here throughout the day on Thursday.

After seeking feedback from drivers, engineers and teams during previous testing at Pocono, IndyCar officials made slight changes to the aerodynamic specifications for the cars in this race.

Officials also implemented three-wide starts for the Pocono event. Three-wide starts have been utilized annually for the Indianapolis 500 since 1921. It was used for CART and USAC races at Pocono during the 1970s and '80s as well.

"After having the opportunity to test at Pocono and a successful event at Auto Club Speedway last season, we were able to analyze track data and compare to our current start procedure for the Indianapolis 500," IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield said. "Given the speeds of our starts, the location of accelerations zones, the spacing between rows and the length of the frontstraights at each track, we have decided to move forward with a three- wide lineup for the initial starts."

Andretti Autosport driver Marco Andretti, who hails from nearby Nazareth, Pa., was among the quickest in Thursday's testing at Pocono. Andretti posted a lap at 219.282 mph.

"I have to give credit to IndyCar; they did a great job with the aero (package) and also Firestone with the tire choice," Andretti said. "First and foremost, that's the positive from coming from the (June 25) test. I think it will produce good racing, because it's going to put guys on the opposite ends of the downforce level, which is the risk you run."

Andretti's teammates, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe, have won the past two IndyCar races. Hunter-Reay, the defending series champion, scored the victory at The Milwaukee Mile for the second year in a row on June 15. One week later, Hinchcliffe picked up his third win of the season by taking the checkered flag at Iowa Speedway. Andretti's last victory came in June 2011 at Iowa.

"I'm so frustrated and want to win," he said. "We've been almost dominant the last two races but had something go wrong. If we execute and everything goes right, we can win."

No driver entered in Sunday's race has competed in a previous open-wheel event at Pocono, but Dario Franchitti did compete in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race there in 2008. The track qualifying record for a Sprint Cup event at Pocono is 179.598 mph, set by Joey Logano in June 2012. It came a year after the track was repaved.

"These (Indy) cars are bloody quick around here," Franchitti said. "The performance level is unbelievable. The tricky part will be getting the balance between turns 1 and 3."

Pocono is the second of three races in this year's "Triple Crown" bonus program for IndyCar. Any driver who wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (May 26), Pocono (July 7) and the season-finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (Oct. 19) will collect a $1 million bonus. Tony Kanaan won the Indianapolis 500. If Kanaan scores the victory at Pocono, he will be awarded $250,000.

"I have never raced at Pocono Raceway, but we know we had a good car at Indy and had a good test at Pocono a few days ago," Kanaan said.

FORMULA ONE

German Grand Prix - Nurburgring - Nurburg, Germany

Following the tire failures in last Sunday's British Grand Prix at Silverstone, Pirelli quickly made changes to the tires that will be used in this weekend's German Grand Prix.

Four drivers -- Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Jean-Eric Vergne -- suffered left-rear tire failure during the British GP. Hamilton started on the pole and led the first seven laps before his tire blew. He rallied for a fourth-place finish, while his Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg, won the event.

Pirelli, which is the sole tire supplier for Formula One, revealed earlier this week that it is using Kevlar-belted tires throughout the weekend in Germany. A new range of tires will be introduced for the upcoming grand prix in Hungary.

The Kevlar-belted tires were recently tested in Canada. The rear tires that will be used in the German GP have a Kevlar construction that replaces the current steel structure with the re-introduction of the 2012 belt. Pirelli has not made any changes to the front tires.

"Even though the 2013 high-performance steel-belted version is completely safe when used correctly, the Kevlar-belted version is easier to manage," Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said. "And as long as there is no system in place which allows us to enforce tire-related specifications, like tire pressures or camber, the incorrect use of which were contributing factors of the tire failures in Silverstone, we prefer to bring a less sophisticated tire.

"From the Hungarian Grand Prix onwards, there will be a completely new range of tires, combining the characteristics of our 2012 tires with the increased performance of the 2013 specification."

This year's German GP is being contested at the Nurburgring. The 2012 event ran at the Hockenheimring.

"The Nurburgring is one of the circuits that we have the least experience of, having only raced there once before in Formula One, but we're certain that we have chosen the correct compromise between performance and durability by bringing the medium and soft compounds," Hembery added. "These were actually the same compounds that we chose for this track in 2011, but since then the tires have got softer and faster, so we would expect a quicker race time with an average of three pit stops for most drivers."

Drivers and teams are pleased that Pirelli immediately made alterations to the tires and have high hopes that Germany will not be a repeat of the British GP.

"I think first of all that it's good that within not even a week's time, how we were able to get a different tire for this race, which hopefully is safer for all of us," said Red Bull driver and three-time defending F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel. "Obviously, the last race was not what we wanted and not satisfactory, so I think it's good that we have a new tire here. How much better and how different it will be is difficult to judge at this stage, but I'm confident that it's a step forward."

Vettel is one of four German drivers racing in front of his home crowd this weekend. Rosberg, Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber) and Adrian Sutil (Force India) are the others. Neither one of them has yet to win the German GP.

"I think we've have good races in the past here (at Nurburgring) but also in Hockenheim," Vettel said. "So Germany in general has always been close but not good enough to win yet. I hope I have a little bit of time left to try again. We'll definitely try this weekend."

Vettel celebrated his 26th birthday on Wednesday.

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