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Cup Tracks To Be Dark But Others Are Well Lit

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 21 2011

Al-Anabi Racing teammates Del Worsham and Larry Dixon begin the NHRA's Western Swing in great shape.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Last Sunday, Ryan Newman was still damp with the sweat he had worked up winning his first Sprint Cup race in well over a year when it was suggested to him that it was too bad the series was heading into a potentially momentum-shaving bye week.

Not even close, Newman said: “Doing what we do, you’ll take a week off anytime you can get it.”

Hard core race fans may not feel that way. Hard core race fans get jittery and irritable when their tracks – and big screens – go black.

The upcoming weekend, however, should be imminently survivable for the hard core. There is not only racing but big-time racing, interesting racing and pretty dang important racing as the season takes aim at autumn.

To wit:

NHRA: The important annual Western Swing begins with racing a mile in the sky as the series heads to Bandimere Speedway, which is located in the foothills west of Denver.

The swing begins with Del Worsham of Al-Anabi Racing in firm control in Top Fuel in terms of points and momentum. He has five victories and a 131-point lead over Don Schumacher Racing’s young Spencer Massey and Al-Anabi teammate and defending champion, Larry Dixon. A berth in the Countdown, which is now just five races away is in the bag. But with standings being reset for the Countdown, Worsham and head man Alan Johnson have to be thinking fine tuning and momentum.

“I’ve been saying all season that it doesn’t feel like we’re in first place,” Worsham said, “but

Mike Neff heads west with a big lead. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tami Pope)

now, with back-to-back wins and midpoint of the season, it definitely feels like the Al-Anabi team is in first place.  It doesn’t mean much now because the Countdown hasn’t started, but it’s still pretty cool to be where we are and be able to look back on the first half of the season.  We’ve won some races and had some fun, but the real season begins after these next five races when the Countdown starts.”

Ditto for Mike Neff and John Force Racing in Funny Car. Same situation. Big lead over Jack Beckman (172 points) and Robert Hight (219 points), Countdown berth bagged, sustaining of momentum and finding a bit more speed on top of priority list.

Also, if John Force is going make a move on defending his championship, he had better pull things together during the Western Swing.

Things are considerably tighter in Pro Stock and Pro Stock bikes.

In Pro Stock, Summit teammates Jason Line and Greg Anderson are 1-2 and separated by just 54 points. There are separated by much less when it comes to ability to win rounds. The Swing could be big for them in that it could establish a bit of dominance. It could also allow past-champion Mike Edwards and rookie Vincent Nobile to step in and build momentum for the Countdown.

In bikes, the situation is even tighter. Eddie Krawiec leads Karen Stoffer by just six points. Within 80 points of Stoffer are Matt Smith, Andrew Hines and kid LE Tonglet. The Swing will be a battle for an edge in bikes.

The Western Swing, which includes races in Sonoma, Calif. and Seattle, will also be a tune-up for the big one – the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. In the NHRA, the big race of the season occupies a big spot on the schedule as it is the final race before the Countdown.

IndyCar

The open-wheelers are in Edmonton, Alberta. Taking to the streets with them will be

Will Power needs to reverse course. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

survival instincts and, perhaps, bad feelings between the top two drivers in the series.

Target Chip Ganassi’s Dario Franchitti holds a 55-point lead over Team Penske’s Will Power. Franchitti also holds what could be a copious amount of disdain from Power.

Last time out, in the narrow streets of another Canadian city, Toronto, the two tangled on the track while going for the victory. Power got the worst of it. And then he fired angry words at Franchitti, saying the Scottish driver has a history of putting hammer jobs on him. Franchitti shrugged. Yep, could have given Power more room in the hairpin turn where Power’s day ended, but, oh well.

Scott Dixon, meanwhile, has crept back into the picture. He is just 83 points behind his Ganassi teammate.

This weekend’s race will be held on a revamped Edmonton circuit. The old one produced lots of bent equipment and tempers. The new one will be new to all.

After Edmonton, the series will have just six races until the season-ender in Las Vegas. Four of them will be on street or road courses, where Power typically excels, two – and then Vegas – on ovals, which have been Ganassi tracks.

“We have had two poor finishes in a row, so we really need to put it all together this weekend and have a strong result,” Power said. “The new track configuration looks like it will allow us to pass, which will make it an interesting race for the drivers and an exciting race for the fans.”

NASCAR

If you simply cannot get behind racing in anything but NASCAR vehicles, then you are neither hard core nor out of luck. While the Cuppers are idle this weekend, the Nationwide

Reed Sorenson is in a tight Nationwide battle. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Erik J. Perel)

and Camping World Truck series are not.

Both are racing for points, money and guitars in Nashville.

Ah, the guitars. They go to Nashville winners and they are beautiful and highly desired.

“One of the most exciting trophies in the whole sport with winning the Gibson guitar,” NNS driver Elliott Sadler said.  ”We’ll definitely have that on our mind when we show up this weekend.”

In the Nationwide Series, the points lead keeps flipping back and forth between Reed Sorenson and Elliott Sadler, who currently has possession. Each has had the lead five times this year. Sadler got it back when Sorenson crashed with 11 laps to go last weekend.

Sadler’s lead is seven points. It is hardly secure and it is not just Sorenson who is in position to take it. Eleven points back of Sorenson is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and just 23 points behind him is Justin Allgaier.

For those who absolutely need a taste of Cup, Carl Edwards is scheduled to race in Nashville.

In the pickups, Matt Crafton’s victory at Iowa last weekend has allowed ThorSport Racing

Johnny Sauter has small lead in Camping World. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Erik J. Perel)

to solidify itself as the team to beat.

Crafton – who broke a 79 race winless streak – moved from seventh to fifth in the standings. He sits 44 points behind teammate and standings leader Johnny Sauter – who has  two poles, one victory, and five top-fives in 11 races this season.

Sauter and Crafton have a combined 16 starts at the superspeedway. Sauter has one top-five and three top-10 finishes in four starts with Crafton garnishing two top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 12 starts.

Sauter will start at Nashville with a 22-point lead over second-place Austin Dillon and a 26-point lead over rookie Cole Whitt. None have victories at the track.

“One of my buddies, he actually just signed a record contract,” Dillon said when asked about winning the guitar. “He’s going to be out there.  Maybe I’ll get him to teach me a few chords, play behind my back.  I’m not going to pull a Kyle Busch.  Those guitars are way too cool to do that.”

Busch, you’ll remember (many in Nashville certainly do) smashed his guitar rock star style a couple years back.

Sports cars

In the  Grand-Am Rolex Sports Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16, only four races remain in the season.

The first of those is at New Jersey Motorsports Park for the American Red Cross 250 on Sunday.

Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas (No. 01 TELMEX BMW/Riley) lead the Daytona Prototype

Jon Fogarty of the Grand-Am Series. (Photos courtesy of the Rolex Grand-Am Racing Series)

standings with 260 points, followed by Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor (No. 10 SunTrust Chevrolet/Riley) with 234, and defending New Jersey winners Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty (No. 99 GAINSCO Auto In-surance Chevrolet/Riley) with 220.

Gurney and Fogarty scored their lone triumph of 2010 at New Jersey Motorsports Park.

They have momentum on their side entering the American Red Cross 250, as they coming off a victory in the recent Rolex Series race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

The GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing drivers are riding a streak of three podium finishes to close towithin 40 points of DP points leaders Pruett and Rojas. They have finished in the top four in five of theeight races this season.

Gurney and Fogarty have combined to win 14 races, and shared the DP championship in both 2007 and 2009.

Both of the Action Express Racing teams also remain in contention.

David Donohue and DarrenLaw (No. 5 Action Express Racing Porsche/Riley), have 212 points with a pair of podium finishes. They are one point ahead of JC France, Terry Borcheller and Joao Barbosa (No. 9 Action Express Racing Porsche/Riley), who won at Virginia International Raceway.

The American Le Mans Series will kind of be the Canadian Le Mans Series this weekend as it visits the historic Mosport International Raceway road circuit in Bowmanville, Ontario.

The series will be welcomed to the 2.5-mile track by its new owner, Canadian Ron Fellows, a veteran sports car racer and NASCAR racer.

He and partners Carlo Fidani and Alan Boughton bought the track in June.

“Mosport has a storied history that goes back to 1961,” said Fellows. “From Formula 1 and Can-Am to Trans-Am, Group C and motorcycles, Mosport has had it all over the decades. To have the opportunity to be part of the ownership group at a circuit that’s been part of my life for over 40 years is very exciting. The ALMS Grand Prix of Mosport is our marquee event, and we intend to build on its success in the future.”

Mosport remains a favorite of drivers.

“I like fast, fast race tracks, and Mosport is definitely fast,” said Tommy Milner, who will share the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R with teammate Olivier Beretta in the fourth round of the 2011 American Le Mans Series. “Even Turn 5, the slowest corner on the circuit, has an approach that’s quick. It’s a flowing race track, and once you get your rhythm, it’s a blast.”

And, of course…

Don’t forget the local short track shows. You’ll love them and they need you.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 21 2011
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