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This Week in Auto Racing Oct. 6 - 7

6:56 PM, Oct 2, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It should be an exciting and wild weekend of racing, as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the fourth race in the championship Chase. The Camping World Truck Series is also at Talladega. Formula One returns to action with the Japanese Grand Prix.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 - Talladega Superspeedway - Talladega, Ala.

When it's Chase time in the Sprint Cup Series, the one racetrack that concerns the title contenders the most is Talladega Superspeedway.

Talladega is the "wild card" in the 10-race Chase for the championship. The unpredictable can happen there, including the big wreck or wrecks. One thing is for sure, the Chase drivers will be able to breathe a little easier once the Talladega race is in the rear-view mirror.

Sunday's race at Talladega is round four in this year's playoffs.

Some of the Chase members have done well at Talladega lately, while other have not.

"That race can shake things up in a big way," said Chase driver Clint Bowyer, who has won the last two fall races at Talladega. "It can propel you to the lead or bury you. It's one of those races that I kind of look forward to. I've won a couple times there and enjoy it, but I also know what can happen there too."

After winning this past weekend at Dover, Brad Keselowski reclaimed the points lead. Keselowski holds a five-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson. Denny Hamlin is 16 markers behind, while Bowyer trails by 25.

Talladega could be Bowyer's best opportunity to move up in the Chase rankings. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races there.

Keselowski is also a two-time race winner at Talladega. He won the spring race there in May and scored his first career Sprint Cup victory at this 2.66-mile speedway in April 2009.

"I really respect the challenge that Talladega is mentally to every driver, but then certainly loathe the lack of ability to fully determine the outcome of your day," Keselowski said. "So it's a bit of a love/hate relationship for sure, but the mental challenge of it is what I really enjoy a lot."

Jeff Gordon is the last driver who scored a season-sweep at Talladega, doing so in 2007.

No Chase driver has won the fall race at Talladega and gone on to capture the series championship in the same season since NASCAR began its playoff format for its premier series in 2004.

Johnson and Hamlin have both struggled on the restrictor-plate tracks (Talladega and Daytona) this year. Johnson is 0-3 in finishing a plate race during the 2012 season. The five-time series champion was involved in an accident in all of those events, placing 42nd in the Daytona 500, 35th in the spring race at Talladega and 36th in July event at Daytona.

"Well, as you can probably see from our finishes this year, we haven't had a lot of luck at the restrictor-plate tracks," Johnson said. "It definitely is the one track in the Chase I've kind of been a little concerned about. There are a lot of great tracks for the 48 (Hendrick Motorsports team) coming up in the Chase, but this one is definitely one where anything can happen.

"There are so many things that are out of your control. There is a lot of room on this track to move around though, obviously, and try things. I think the odds are in our favor to be able to finish one of these restrictor-plate races this year. At least I hope so."

Johnson does have two wins at Talladega, with his most recent one coming in April 2011. He beat Bowyer to the finish line by the slimmest of margins -- 0.002 seconds to be exact.

Hamlin did post a fourth-place run in the Daytona 500 but finished 23rd and 25th in the other two restrictor-plate races this season.

"(Talladega) is an absolute crap shoot, but it's going to be for everyone," Hamlin said. "We have to know who we're racing. We have to make smart decisions and keep all the fenders on it. Typically, most superspeedways I'm right in it until the very end and get caught up in a wreck. My job is to make sure I concentrate on that weekend, not look forward and focus on getting the most points possible."

Hamlin's finishes in the last two fall races at Talladega have been eighth and ninth.

Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six wins at Talladega, while his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. has five victories there. Earnhardt Jr.'s last win at Talladega came in Oct. 2004. Gordon has not taken the checkered flag there in five years.

Heading to Talladega, Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne are both 32 points out of the lead. Earnhardt Jr. is next in the Chase rankings, 39 points behind, followed by Martin Truex Jr. (-42), Kevin Harvick (-46), Gordon (-48), Greg Biffle (-51) and Matt Kenseth (-72).

"For the first time in my career, I'm probably really looking forward to going to Talladega," said Kenseth, who won this year's Daytona 500. "Our plate stuff has been extremely strong this year. I think we've led a lot of laps at all three plate races. They all ended on a green-white-checker. We were leading all three green-white-checkers, but unfortunately, we lost the last two. I messed up both of them and didn't do the right things, but we've had really fast cars."

Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500.

Camping World Truck Series

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

The Camping World Truck Series will run its second and final restrictor-plate race of the season on Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

With five races to go, rookie Ty Dillon holds a mere one-point lead over James Buescher. Their closest competitors -- Timothy Peters, Joey Coulter and Parker Kligerman -- have significant deficits to overcome. Peters is 24 points behind, while Coulter trails by 38 and Kligerman 39.

Dillon has yet to make a Truck Series start at Talladega but has previous experience at this track.

"We won at Talladega last year in the ARCA Racing Series," he said. "It's really a fun track to race if you can stay out of trouble. I think we can run up front this weekend if we're smart and race the racetrack. Pack racing can be a lot of fun if you know how to do it right. You need to be sure you don't get caught in the wrong place and the wrong time."

Buescher has run well at Talladega in the past, finishing 15th (2009), sixth (2010) and third (2011). He leads the series with four wins this season. All of his victories have come on 1.5-mile tracks.

"I really enjoy racing on superspeedways for the pure fast speeds and action pack racing," Buescher said. "I am also on edge, because anything at any time can happen on them. This is a place that we can win, and I hope we are in place to accomplish that."

Todd Bodine is the only driver entered in this race that has won a previous truck event at Talladega. Bodine scored back-to-back victories there from 2007-08.

In February, Bodine's then Red Horse Racing teammate, John King, won the first restrictor-plate race of the season at Daytona. King lost his ride with the No. 7 team in May due to lack of sponsorship.

Thirty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Fred's 250. Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch are those Sprint Cup Series regulars scheduled to compete in this race.

FORMULA ONE

Japanese Grand Prix - Suzuka Circuit - Suzuka City, Japan

After winning last week's Singapore Grand Prix, Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel put himself right back in the hunt for the Formula One world championship.

Vettel, who is seeking his third consecutive title, benefited from Lewis Hamilton's gearbox failure early in the race and then held off Hamilton's McLaren teammate, Jenson Button, after two restarts to win in Singapore for the second year in a row. Vettel moved up to second in the driver's standings. He is 29 points behind leader Fernando Alonso from Ferrari. Alonso finished third in Singapore.

Third through fifth in points right now are: Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus (-45), Hamilton (-52) and Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber (-62).

F1 now heads to Suzuka, Japan for the 15th round in the 20-grand prix schedule this year.

Alonso has not won a race since the July 22 German Grand Prix but has kept a somewhat comfortable points lead due to Vettel and Hamilton's misfortunes in previous grand prix.

"In Monza (Italian Grand Prix), it was Lewis winning the race and Sebastian retired, and (in Singapore) it was Sebastian winning and Lewis retiring, so for me, it's okay if they keep doing it like this," Alonso said.

But let's not forget what happened in 2010. With two races to go, Alonso held a 25-point lead over Vettel, but Vettel won both the penultimate event in Brazil and then the season-finale in Abu Dhabi to beat Alonso for the title by four points.

Could history repeat itself in F1?

"I don't think Fernando would be too happy if it happened again in the last race," Vettel said. "It's an incredible season for all of us, and we have a lot of races left. The car seems to be competitive, and we just have to use the momentum and keep pushing for these last races and see what happens."

Last year, Vettel clinched his second straight F1 title with a third-place finish in the Japanese Grand Prix. He entered the race needing only one point to secure the championship.

"I love the Suzuka circuit," he said. "I wish I had won in 2011. It was my third Formula One race on my favorite track, and it still bothers me a bit that I took my world title with a third place."

Alonso and Vettel have both won the Japanese GP twice. Alonso's victories came in 2006 and '08. Vettel scored back-to-back wins in Japan from 2009-10. Button is the defending race winner.

"Suzuka is definitely a circuit that puts hair on your chest," Button said. "It's extremely uncompromising, like a street circuit. It doesn't allow for a single mistake, punishing you for putting a wheel wrong at almost every point on the circuit. It's also extremely quick."

Button trails Alonso by a distant 75 points. He finished second in the Singapore GP.

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