This Week in Auto Racing April 18 – 19

( – NASCAR is back on the short track this weekend with the
Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series racing at Bristol Motor Speedway. The IndyCar
Series is competing on the streets of Long Beach, California, and Formula One
is running the Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir, Bahrain.


Sprint Cup Series

Food City 500/Support Steve Byrnes – Bristol Motor Speedway – Bristol, Tenn.

The Sprint Cup Series will run its second short track race of the season this
weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

There have been six different winners in the last six Sprint Cup races at this
0.533-mile, high-banked oval. The previous nine spring races here have
featured nine different winners.

As part of the numerous scheduling changes for the 2015 Sprint Cup season, the
spring race at Bristol was moved to April after it had been held in March for
the past nine years.

Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and
Joey Logano are those drivers who have won at Bristol since 2012. Keselowski,
Hamlin and Logano have each won a race this season to virtually guarantee
themselves a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Kahne, Kenseth
and Edwards are seeking their first victories of the year.

Edwards won last year’s spring race at Bristol, which featured five hours of
rain delays and ended with a confusing caution. With two laps remaining and
Edwards leading the way, the caution lights around the track turned on for no
apparent reason. Moments later, heavy rain fell on the track, forcing NASCAR
officials to conclude the event under caution.

NASCAR said shortly after the race had ended that it appeared one of the flag
people in the flag stand had leaned on the switch that was the manual override
for the cautions lights.

Edwards won at Bristol for the third time last year. He is now in his first
season driving the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing after spending the
previous 11 years with Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards scored his first top-10
finish of the season this past Saturday with a 10th-place run at Texas. He is
currently 14th in the point standings.

“We’ve had a lot of success at Bristol,” Edwards said. “Last year, we got our
first win of the year at Bristol, so that would be nice to repeat … We came
off of a top-10 finish last week, which was hard fought and we’re proud of it.
At this point in the season, we need to get the best finishes we can. Bristol
is a tough place to do that, but I feel real confident there. The JGR cars
have run really well there in the past.”

Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon lead all drivers entered in this race with five
victories each at Bristol. Busch has not won here since March 2006, and
Gordon’s most recent victory at this track occurred in August 2002. Both
drivers have yet to win this season.

“Bristol is one of those tracks that I get a little extra pumped up for,”
Busch said. “It’s a place that gives you a big adrenaline rush. You can
literally feel the energy around the track from the competitors and the fans
who are just excited for 500 laps of racing at Bristol. There’s really nothing
quite like it.”

Additional SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers were recently
installed at Bristol. Earlier this month, track officials announced it had
secured an additional 600 feet of SAFER barriers that would be installed on
the outside walls of the frontstretch and backstretch prior to this weekend’s
NASCAR races here.

Drivers have been concerned about their safety at racetracks since Kyle
Busch’s accident in the Feb. 21 Xfinity Series race at Daytona. Busch
fractured his right leg and left foot when he slammed head-on into the inside
retaining wall on the frontstretch. That wall did not have a SAFER barrier
attached to it at the time.

The barriers will change how drivers race at Bristol.

“The addition of the SAFER barriers is going to change the groove slightly,”
Gordon said. “It’s definitely going to change how we race there. I hope it
makes it more exciting with even more action.”

Gordon’s children, Ella and Leo, will serve as the grand marshals for Sunday’s
race at Bristol to help commemorate Gordon’s final season in NASCAR’s premier
series. He has scored 16 top-five finishes and 24 top-10 finishes at this
track, which is more than any other active driver.

Xfinity Series

Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 – Bristol Motor Speedway – Bristol, Tenn.

Eighteen-year-old Erik Jones has been getting a lot of attention since he won
last weekend’s Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Jones became a first-time race winner in Xfinity when he held off Sprint Cup
Series regulars Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 300-mile event
at Texas. He became the first driver to win five NASCAR national touring
series races before the age of 19. He scored four victories in the Camping
World Truck Series — one in 2013 and three in 2014 — before claiming his
maiden victory in Xfinity.

There have been 14 NASCAR national touring series races won by a driver under
the age of 19, and Jones has 35 percent of those victories.

This year, Jones is driving the No. 4 Toyota Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports
full-time in the Camping World Truck Series. He is running a partial schedule
for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series, driving the No. 20 Toyota Camry in
some races, including Texas, and substituting for the injured Kyle Busch in
the No. 54 car in other events.

He started on the pole and led a race-high 79 laps, including the final 50, at

“This has got to be one of the biggest wins in my career by far, to race
against these Cup guys (Keselowski and Earnhardt) and being able to go out and
get a win,” said Jones, whose first Xfinity win came in just his ninth start.
“I knew we had a fast Camry, I never go into a race thinking we can’t win, but
it’s still far-fetched to think. It’s amazing. I’ve watched other guys do it,
win races as young guys, and I want to be that guy.”

Jones, a Byron, Michigan native, could be making his first career start in
Sprint Cup in the near future.

“There’s no question that at some point very quick (Jones) is going to be in a
Cup car some,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “I think we have a bit of a strategy
there that we talked about. I think he’s ready to go at any time. We’ll just
work with that as we go forward.”

Jones is scheduled to drive the No. 20 car in this weekend’s 300-lap Xfinity
race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He has one Xfinity start at this half-mile
oval, finishing eighth last August.

“Bristol is a track that I definitely consider more in my forte of tracks I
grew up running,” he said. “It’s always exciting to get back there, and it’s
kind of our first short-track race of the year too. It’s going to be
interesting to see where our program stands on that side of things, which is
always nice to check out. I’m looking forward to it.

“We’ve been strong the last few weeks, and I think we will be able to carry
that momentum right in to Bristol with our GameStop (sponsor) Toyota.”

Jones is presently third in the Truck Series point standings, just six points
behind leader and two-time defending series champion Matt Crafton. The next
truck race is May 8 at Kansas.


Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – Streets of Long Beach, Calif.

The IndyCar Series is running its third race of the season on the streets of
Long Beach this weekend.

Last month, Juan Pablo Montoya from Team Penske won the season-opener in St.
Petersburg, Florida. IndyCar competed for the first time at NOLA Motorsports
Park, located just outside of New Orleans, this past weekend, with James
Hinchcliffe winning the race after he capitalized on an off-sequence pit
strategy and benefited from a rash of accidents due to wet track conditions.
Hinchcliffe is driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports this season.

Heading into Sunday’s 80-lap race at Long Beach, Montoya holds a 10-point lead
over second-place and teammate Helio Castroneves, while Power, a Penske driver
and defending IndyCar champion, is 14 points out of the lead. Hinchcliffe is
19 behind.

On Friday, Power turned in the fastest lap overall in the two practice
sessions. Power’s best lap, which occurred in P2, was clocked in 1 minute,
7.5485 seconds. Simon Pagenaud, who joined Roger Penske’s organization this
year, had the second quickest lap in 1:07.5855. Castroneves was third,
followed by Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon and Montoya.

Dixon topped the time charts in the first practice session with a lap in

Power is a two-time race winner at Long Beach. He won here in 2008 (last-ever
Champ Car event) and ’12.

“Everyone wants to win at Long Beach,” Power said. “It’s one of the biggest
races in North America and a place with so much history. I’ve had some pretty
interesting history there myself, from qualifying on the pole before Helio
(Castroneves) made his comeback in 2009 to winning there twice in my career at
Team Penske.”

Long Beach, a 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit, has hosted an
open-wheel race for the past 31 years. From 1984-2003, this event was
sanctioned by CART and then Champ Car from 2004-08. IndyCar has sanctioned it
since 2009.

Mike Conway won this race in 2011 and again last year, but Conway has since
left IndyCar to compete in the FIA World Endurance Championship. In 2014,
Conway raced on the road/street courses for Ed Carpenter Racing in IndyCar.

Two years ago, Takuma Sato became the first Japanese-born driver to win an
IndyCar race when he took the checkered flag at Long Beach. Sato is in his
third season driving for A.J. Foyt’s team.

Montoya claimed his first Indy car victory at Long Beach as well. It occurred
on April 18, 1999 in a CART race.

“Long Beach will always be a special place for me,” Montoya said. “It was
where I won my first major Indy car race in 1999, setting me up for a
tremendous season that culminated in the (CART) championship that year. It
would be very nice to win there again and set ourselves up for a title run
this year.”

Twenty-three drivers are on the entry list for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long
Beach. Rocky Moran Jr. is expected to make his first career IndyCar start in
this race. Moran is replacing Carlos Huertas in the No. 18 car for Dale Coyne

“I can’t tell you how excited I am about finally being able to drive an Indy
car,” Moran said. “(Team owner) Dale (Coyne) is a dream maker, and I have
always dreamed of this opportunity. We just need to run a lot of miles, as I
am aware of the hill I have to climb, but I love Long Beach, and this truly is
a dream come true for me.”


Bahrain Grand Prix – Bahrain International Circuit – Sakhir, Bahrain

One week after running the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, Formula One is back
on track this weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix.

This will be the second straight year the Bahrain GP is held at nighttime in
the desert.

Based on Friday’s two practice sessions, it looks as though Sunday’s Bahrain
GP will be another thrilling battle between Mercedes and Ferrari. Mercedes
dominated the 2014 F1 season, but Ferrari has bounced back in a big way this
season and become Mercedes’ toughest competitor.

In the first practice for the Bahrain GP, run during the afternoon in hot
temperatures, Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen topped the time charts with a lap
around the Bahrain International Circuit in 1 minute, 37.827 seconds, while
his new teammate, Sebastian Vettel, was second quickest, just 0.202 seconds
behind Raikkonen. Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton placed 15th
and 16th, respectively, in that session.

In P2, held during the evening hours in cooler temperatures, Mercedes turned
up the heat by leading the way. Rosberg was quickest (1:34.647) and Hamilton
second, 0.115 seconds in back of his teammate. Raikkonen placed third, and
Vettel was fourth.

“It was a good day today,” Rosberg said after the second practice session.
“The afternoon session wasn’t very useful, as the conditions are so hot and
really quite different to what we see in the evening, which is of course when
qualifying (Saturday) and the race will be held.

“That makes the second session very valuable. We learned a lot. For example,
Ferrari are very good on the long runs. On qualifying laps, we look quicker,
but on race pace, they are really strong, so we will have to do a lot of work
to find the perfect setup.”

With three grand prix completed, Hamilton, the defending F1 world champion,
has accumulated the most points with 68, while second-place and four-time
world champion Vettel has 55 points. Hamilton won in Australia and China, and
Vettel claimed his first victory with Ferrari in Malaysia.

In the constructors’ championship standings, Mercedes has 119 points for the
season, compared to 79 for Ferrari.

“It’s another weekend on another track, with different conditions,” Vettel
said. “At the moment, we know how strong Mercedes are. They have a very good
package, but so do we, and we must make sure that we keep improving it to
close the gap. Whatever is going on between the two Mercedes drivers does not
affect us. We must look after ourselves. The rest is not in our hands.”

The rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg was renewed last Sunday in China.

After finishing second to Hamilton, Rosberg accused his teammate of
deliberately driving too slow and therefore interfering with his pace during
the mid-stages of the Chinese GP. Rosberg felt Hamilton’s purposeful slow pace
backed him up and allowed third-place runner Vettel to gain on him.

Hamilton claimed that he did not drive too slow in an effort to back up
Rosberg but managed his pace in order to avoid tire degradation.

“We’re moving forwards and we will re-unite as a team this weekend and try to
do a great job,” Hamilton said on Thursday. “There’s no issue between me and
Nico. We saw each other (Thursday) morning, and everything is good. They’re
going to be times when people are unhappy about some things, but we’re grown-
ups and we move past it.”

Last year’s night race in Bahrain was a hard-fought between Rosberg and
Hamilton. Rosberg started on the pole, but Hamilton grabbed the lead from him
on the opening lap.

Hamilton had a sizeable lead over Rosberg before the safety car was deployed
on lap 41 for an accident involving Esteban Gutierrez. After the restart with
11 laps to go, the Mercedes drivers swapped the lead multiple times before
Hamilton pulled ahead for good. He beat Rosberg to the finish line by just one

“Last year, we had an amazing race here,” Hamilton said. “It was really
fantastic, great fun, a huge, huge challenge for Nico and me. That was the
first night race here, and it was honestly the best race, visibly, that I had
seen here in Bahrain.”