Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - NASCAR heads to Southern California, with
the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series running at Auto Club Speedway. Formula
One travels to Malaysia, while the IZOD IndyCar Series kicks off its 2012
season in St. Petersburg, FL.
Sprint Cup Series
Auto Club 400 - Auto Club Speedway - Fontana, CA
When the Sprint Cup Series has come to Auto Club Speedway lately, it's been
the Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick show. The last two spring races at the
two-mile racetrack have featured epic duels between the two California
In February 2010, Johnson, who hails from nearby El Cajon, claimed his track-
record-extending fifth win at California, but this one didn't come with ease.
Harvick, a Bakersfield-native, chased down Johnson and battled him for the
lead after a late-race restart, but Harvick scraped the wall with just four
laps to go, allowing Johnson to drive away for the victory.
Harvick finished second in that race but got payback the following year when
he passed Johnson for the lead between turns three and four on the final lap
and then held off Johnson at the finish line by just 0.14 seconds for his
first win at California.
"The last two years, the race has pretty much come down to us and the No. 48
team [Johnson]," Harvick said. "The year before I ran into the wall and last
year we won. That was good to come back and rebound from the mistake from 2010
and being able to race with Jimmie was a lot of fun."
Johnson has finished no worse than ninth in the last nine races at California.
He has also led a lap in each one of those events.
"I've been really successful at Auto Club Speedway," he said. "It's my home
track. We got our first Sprint Cup career win there in 2002, so it's a special
track to me. I definitely always see some friends and family while we are out
there. I remember last year, we were very close to victory lane, about three-
quarters of a mile away from the trophy, but Kevin Harvick found a way around
the outside. So I know we'll go there and be very competitive this time."
Earlier this week, Hendrick Motorsports won its final appeal to have hefty
penalties assessed by NASCAR to Johnson's No. 48 team overturned. The
penalties stemmed from an illegal part (C-post) found on Johnson's Daytona 500
car during last month's opening-day inspection at Daytona International
National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook rescinded
the six-race suspension for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec.
Middlebrook also removed the loss of 25 points for driver Johnson and car
owner Jeff Gordon.
The addition of 25 points moved Johnson from 17th to 11th in the standings.
From 2004-10, the series competed at California twice during the season, but
last year, the track lost its fall race to make way for a second date at
Kansas Speedway. The race length at California was also trimmed from 500 miles
Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle heads to California as the points
leader. Biffle began the season with third-place finishes in each of the first
three races but placed 13th in last Sunday's 500-lapper at Bristol.
"Bristol didn't turn out quite the way we planned it, but we do feel better
about our finish since we found something wrong with the car after the race,"
he said. "The right-front bump stop failed, so it was down on the splitter for
the last 17-lap run. We wondered why we weren't going forward. We were going
backward and unfortunately finished 13th but kept the point lead."
Biffle currently holds a nine-point advantage over Harvick, while Biffle's
teammate and Daytona 500 winner, Matt Kenseth, is 12 markers behind.
"We are looking forward to California," Biffle said. "We've got the best car
to ever come out of the Roush Fenway shop. Our California car has the best
downforce numbers. It's the lightest, badest, newest thing the guys can build.
It's a good track for me."
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Auto Club 400.
Royal Purple 300 - Auto Club Speedway - Fontana, CA
Elliott Sadler has been on a tear in the Nationwide Series lately, and he's
showing no signs of letting up.
Sadler has won two of the first four races this season. He ended a 91-race
winless streak in NASCAR's second-tier series earlier this month at Phoenix.
Sadler had been a competitor in the Sprint Cup Series from 1999-2010 before
returning to Nationwide full-time for the 2011 season.
With two victories and a pair of third-place finishes, Sadler has built a 25-
point lead over defending Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Sadler drove for Kevin Harvick Inc. last year, but KHI ceased operations and
sold its equipment to Richard Childress Racing when the season concluded. Team
owner Richard Childress paired Sadler with crew chief Luke Lambert, and the
two have stormed out of the gate.
"This sport is built on momentum, and I think getting two quick wins here at
the beginning of the season is really good for our team," Sadler said. "Luke
Lambert is a young, smart crew chief, and he is as hungry as I am to continue
to improve and continue to grow stronger as the season continues. Our team is
experienced. There is a lot of talent on our team, and I think that we are
going to continue to remain focused each and every week on the goal of winning
this Nationwide Series championship."
Sadler is hopeful his momentum will continue this weekend at Auto Club
Speedway. One year ago, he competed in a Nationwide race at California for the
first time since 2008. Sadler started 34th but quickly moved up into the
top-10. He went on to finish fifth.
"I feel like I ran pretty well there last season with a top-five finish," he
said. "I feel like we are a little better prepared this season, because we
know what kind of setup we need to be able to get there and unload quickly."
Remarkably, the four Nationwide races so far this season have been won by non-
Sprint Cup regulars. James Buescher, a Camping World Truck Series competitor,
won the season-opener at Daytona, and Stenhouse picked up the victory at Las
Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are those Sprint Cup regulars
competing in this race.
Busch has won the last three Nationwide events at California but all of those
victories came while he was driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. He is now in his
first year as driver/owner of the No. 54 Toyota. Busch has finished no better
than 11th this season.
"We recognize there is still work to be done though to have all the parts we
need internally and to apply what we know, as a group, at the racetrack and
really perform well together," he said. "We have to minimize our mistakes too
which is part of growing."
Forty-two teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Royal Purple 300.
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES
Honda GP of St. Petersburg - Streets of St. Petersburg - St. Petersburg, FL
The 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series not only gets underway this weekend in St.
Petersburg, FL, but it's also the series' first race to be held since the
death of Dan Wheldon last October at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
IndyCar has endured a long and difficult five-month offseason following the
horrific 15-car crash that claimed the life of the two-time Indianapolis 500
winner and former series champion. But IndyCar is ready to race again with its
new "DW12" car, named in honor of Wheldon, new engine suppliers -- Chevrolet
and Lotus -- and a host of safety improvements.
It's only fitting that St. Petersburg be the first event since the passing of
Wheldon. The Englishman had resided in the area.
St. Petersburg will indeed be an emotional race, with Wheldon on the minds of
all of the competitors.
"I think it's going to be emotional for a lot of people, and it's going to
make it a special event that we are all going to remember him," said Dreyer
and Reinbold Racing driver Oriol Servia. "It's just a different way to start
the season but not the way anybody wanted. It's going to make the event even
Drivers, teams and race officials will pay tribute to Wheldon in many
different ways during Sunday's 100-lap race on the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg
street circuit. Andretti Autosport driver Marco Andretti will wear a special
helmet in honor of his late-friend. The paint scheme on Andretti's helmet will
feature a special "Lionheart" design, much like the one Wheldon had worn.
"Obviously, we're going to be driving with very heavy hearts because of Dan
Wheldon," Andretti said. "But he was proud to call that place home, so we're
going to go there and try to enjoy ourselves, and we're going to compete
because Dan was a competitor."
Earlier this month, the city of St. Petersburg dedicated a section of the
street circuit to Wheldon. The corner of Bayshore Drive and Albert Whitted
Park, which is turn 10 during the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, was
named "Dan Wheldon Way."
In addition, city officials and event organizers unveiled plans for a two-
panel monument to celebrate Wheldon's life and St. Petersburg's role in
"Dan loved St. Petersburg; our city loved him," St. Petersburg Mayor Bill
Foster said during the March 7 dedication ceremony. "This monument will stand
for generations to come as a remembrance to a great and humble man who left an
indelible impression upon the sport of racing and upon the city he called
home, St. Petersburg."
Wheldon's sister, Holly, will wave the green flag to start the race. She will
also present the first-place trophy to the event winner.
When IndyCar competed at St. Petersburg for the first time in 2005, Wheldon
passed Ryan Briscoe for the lead in turn 10 late in the race and then held it
for the win. Wheldon also won his first Indianapolis 500 and series title that
year, driving for then-Andretti Green Racing.
Dario Franchitti, who captured his record third consecutive and fourth overall
series championship last year, is the defending St. Petersburg race winner.
Franchitti put on a dominating performance by leading 94 of 100 laps. He
passed Will Power, the pole sitter, just after a restart on the fifth lap and
then took command from there. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver finished more
than seven seconds ahead of Power.
Even though the win looked easy, Franchitti claimed it was a difficult task.
"That was the first day of the double-wide restarts, and we kept having
carnage," he said. "I managed to use the second restart to my advantage by
passing Will on the outside of turn one and turn two and managed to lead it to
the end. That was a great way to start the season."
Franchitti won at St. Petersburg for the first time in six attempts there.
"I'm glad I could finally win one, because I found a few ways to lose them
around here," he added.
Power has been dominant on the road and street courses the past two IndyCar
seasons. In 2010, he won at Sao Paulo Brazil and St. Petersburg for a 2-0
start to the season. Of the last 19 road/street course races, Power has won 10
He has finished no worse than eighth in four starts at St. Petersburg.
"I guess it's like your typical street course," Power said. "The thing about
this track is there's really no fast corners. The fast corners we do, you're
flat out on so you don't really consider them as corners. It seems to suit me,
and I enjoy it a lot."
Twenty-six teams are on the entry list for the Honda Grand Prix of St.
Malaysian Grand Prix - Sepang International Circuit - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
After the first grand prix of the season last weekend in Melbourne, Australia,
it appears that Sebastian Vettel's bid for another Formula One world
championship might be a much tougher task than last year.
Jenson Button from McLaren had an impressive win in the Australian Grand Prix.
Button started second but grabbed the lead from pole sitter and teammate Lewis
Hamilton on the opening lap and then took command from there in the 58-lap
Vettel qualified a disappointing sixth but rebounded with a strong second-
F1 now heads to Malaysia, where Vettel has won the last two years.
"It's good to go there off the back of Australia, and I hope we get another
strong result," he said.
Vettel was untouchable during the 2011 season, as he led in the championship
point standings from start (Australia) to finish (Brazil). At age 24, he
became the youngest double champion in F1 history. Vettel ended his title
season with 11 wins, 17 podium appearances and a record-breaking 15 poles.
Entering the second round of this season -- the Malaysian Grand Prix -- Vettel
finds himself in an awkward position. He's not the points leader, which is the
first time that's happened since the penultimate race of the 2010 season in
"I think the [Australian GP] showed that there are several top teams in
Formula One, and I think we can expect them to be fighting for victory in
Malaysia," Button said. "Both Red Bull drivers were very quick in the race,
and I think we can expect further strong challenges from Mercedes AMG and
Lotus this weekend."
Button has performed well on the tricky 3.44-mile (5.543-kilometer) Sepang
International Circuit, located near Kuala Lumpur. He won the Malaysian GP in
2009 and finished second in this event last year.
"Sepang is more of a high-speed circuit [than Melbourne]," Button said. "There
are some fantastic sweeping corners here and, if the car's working properly,
it's a real joy to drive.
"It's one of the toughest circuits on the calendar, because there's a real
range of corners, cambers, a couple of blind apexes and a little bit of
gradient. If the car's working against you, then it becomes painful, but when
it's all switched on, it's just a great circuit to drive."
Button enters the race with a seven-point advantage over Vettel.
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