This Week in Auto Racing April 24 – 26

( – The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series are running at
Richmond International Raceway, while the IndyCar Series is competing at
Barber Motorsports Park.


Sprint Cup Series

Toyota Owners 400 – Richmond International Raceway – Richmond, Virginia

Denny Hamlin is expected to compete in this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup and
Xfinity Series races at Richmond International Raceway after suffering neck
spasms that forced him out of the car in the early going of last Sunday’s
event at Bristol.

Following a 90-minute rain delay at Bristol, Hamlin experienced his neck spasm
on lap 12. The race was stopped for rain after 22 laps were completed, and the
red flag was displayed for several hours. Hamlin’s pain intensified during the
delay, making him unable to continue driving his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing
Toyota in the event. Erik Jones, a development driver for JGR, relieved

Jones drove Hamlin’s car to a 26th-place finish, with Hamlin being credited
with that position. It was the first time Jones, who is 18 years old, competed
in a Sprint Cup race.

“Obviously, getting out of the car on Sunday was a very tough decision, and
Erik did an admirable job under difficult circumstances,” Hamlin said. “After
treatment this week, I feel close to 100 percent, and I’m confident that I’ll
be good to go this weekend in Richmond. It’s a great track for our team, and
one that means a lot to me personally. Hopefully, we can go out there and
compete for the win on Saturday night.”

Hamlin won the March 29 race at Martinsville to all but assure himself a
position in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He finished third in
last year’s Chase point standings.

On Friday, Hamlin had the 10th fastest lap in the first practice session and
then the fifth quickest lap in the second and final session for Saturday’s
400-lap Sprint Cup race at Richmond. His hometown of Chesterfield, Virginia is
nearby this 0.75-mile track.

Hamlin topped the speed charts in practice for Friday night’s Xfinity Series
race at Richmond. He is driving the No. 20 Toyota for JGR in that event.

In 17 Sprint Cup starts at Richmond, Hamlin has scored two wins, seven top-
five finishes and nine top-10s as well as two poles. He won back-to-back fall
races here from 2009-10.

Hamlin is currently 11th in the point standings. He started the season with a
fourth-place finish in the Feb. 22 Daytona 500 after starting 42nd in that
race. He finished 38th at Atlanta one week later and then fifth at Las Vegas
before he placed 23rd at Phoenix and 28th in Fontana, California.

On Thursday, Hamlin hosted his eighth annual Late Model charity race, the
Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown, at South Boston Speedway in South Boston
Virginia. He competed in that event but engine failure put him behind the wall
early, as he finished 31st in the 36-car field. Timothy Peters, a regular in
the Camping World Truck Series, won the event.

Xfinity Series

ToyotaCare 250 – Richmond International Raceway – Richmond, Virginia

Last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, 23-year-old Daniel Suarez became the
highest-finishing Mexican driver in NASCAR Xfinity Series history with his
second-place run.

On Friday night, Suarez will compete at Richmond International Raceway, where
he made his series debut one year ago.

Joey Logano, a Sprint Cup Series regular, led all 300 laps in the Xfinity race
at Bristol, but Suarez, who started ninth, patiently made his way through the
field and moved into contention to win this event in the late going. He ended
up finishing 1.2 seconds behind Logano.

Suarez is a rookie in Xfinity this season, driving the No. 18 Arris-sponsored
Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. He is currently 10th in the series point
standings, with two top-10 finishes in seven races. Suarez placed 10th at Las

From 2011-14, Suarez competed in the NASCAR Mexico Series, scoring 10 wins and
34 top-10 finishes in 58 starts. He finished second in points in that series
two years ago. Also in 2013, Suarez placed third in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series
East point standings, the highest finish for an international driver in series
history. He has three victories to his credit in K&N Pro Series competition.

Suarez started 12th and finished 19th in last year’s spring race at Richmond.
He made one more Xfinity start during the 2014 season, finishing 15th in the
September event at Chicagoland Speedway.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Suarez said. “Kyle Busch (JGR teammate)
has been helping me a lot. I think everything that we’ve been doing since the
end of 2014 is paying off slowly. I’m super happy with the performance (in
last Saturday’s race at Bristol). We were still a little bit off, but as a
rookie, I try hard, and I believe we’re on the right track.”

Suarez admits that his move from NASCAR Mexico Series and K&N Pro Series
competition to the Xfinity Series has been a big adjustment.

“Last year, I was just racing in the NASCAR Mexico Series, and that is Late
Models, and I was racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, so it’s a big jump
and it’s a lot to learn about the racetracks, about the race car and about the
team,” he said. “It’s been a long year so far, learning about the team and
spending a lot of time at the race shop.”

Suarez, a graduate of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program and a NASCAR
Next alum, is presently second in the Xfinity rookie-of-the-year point
standings, just four points behind leader Darrell Wallace Jr.


Honda Indy G.P. of Alabama – Barber Motorsports Park – Birmingham, Alabama

The IndyCar Series will run its fourth race of the season this weekend at
Barber Motorsports Park.

Last Sunday, Scott Dixon from Chip Ganassi Racing won on Grand Prix of Long
Beach on the streets of Long Beach, California for the first time. Dixon is
hoping to do the same this Sunday at Barber.

This will be the sixth time IndyCar competes at this 2.3-mile, 17-turn road
course. Dixon, a three-time champion in the series, finished second in each of
the first four races here from 2010-13. He placed third in last year’s event.

“We’ve had some great racing over the past few years at Barber and we’ve
finished on the podium every time but never won there,” Dixon said.
“Hopefully, I can try to move up and get to that top spot at Barber. I love
going there, and we’ve always qualified and raced well. Hopefully, this year
could be the year.”

In Long Beach, Dixon scored his 36th career Indy car victory, which moved him
ahead of Bobby Unser for fifth on the series’ all-time race winners list. He
is three wins away from tying Al Unser for fourth on the list.

Dixon also tied Bobby Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi and Helio Castroneves atop the
all-time list with an Indy car victory in 11 consecutive seasons, and he tied
Rick Mears and Gordon Johncock with at least one victory in 13 seasons.

“It feels amazing to even be on a list with a lot of those names. It’s a real
privilege,” Dixon said.

Ryan Hunter-Reay from Andretti Autosport has won the last two IndyCar races at
Barber. In 2013, Hunter-Reay started on the pole and led the most laps with 53
but had to hold off a hard-charging Dixon in the closing laps. He beat Dixon
to the finish line by just 0.6 seconds.

Last year’s race at Barber was delayed two and a half hours due to rain, and
it turned into a time event of one hour and 40 minutes. After starting third,
Hunter-Reay grabbed the lead on lap 16 when then leader Will Power spun off
the wet track. Hunter-Reay ran in front for a total of 40 laps en route to his
second straight victory here.

“As back-to-back winners of the event, we’re looking to return with a strong
result and continued progress on working with the new aero kit,” Hunter-Reay
said. “We’re dealing with a completely different car this year, so we’ll face
some new challenges in a relatively short race weekend.”

If Hunter-Reay wins Sunday’s 90-lap event here, he will become the fifth
different driver to win three races in a row at the same track within the past
10 years. Hunter-Reay would join Sebastien Bourdais (Long Beach, 2005-07), Dan
Wheldon (Homestead, 2005-07), Scott Dixon (Watkins Glen, 2005-07 and
Nashville, 2006-08) and Power (Sao Paulo, 2010-12).