Richmond, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series return to action this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. IndyCar is in Birmingham for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Sprint Cup Series
Toyota Owners 400 - Richmond International Raceway - Richmond, Va.
Despite a current 22nd-place ranking in Sprint Cup Series points, Kevin Harvick is in great shape to make this year's championship Chase, thanks to his two wins.
As long as he finishes the 26-race regular season in the top-30 in points, Harvick is guaranteed of making the Chase for the eighth time in his career, including his fifth consecutive year.
Harvick, who is in his first year as driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, became the first repeat winner of the season with a victory in the most recent race on April 12 at Darlington. His first win this year came on March 2 at Phoenix.
After taking last week off for Easter, the series resumes its schedule this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. Richmond is the ninth race of the season. The regular season will conclude after the series competes here again the first weekend in September.
Driving for Richard Childress Racing from the start of his Cup career in February 2001 to the conclusion of the 2013 season, Harvick has won a series race at Richmond three times, including a victory one year ago. He has also scored 16 top-10 finishes in 26 events at this three-quarter-mile track.
In addition to his Sprint Cup duties, Harvick is competing in Friday night's Nationwide Series race here, driving the No. 5 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports.
"I always look forward to coming to this race weekend just knowing that and hoping that you can contend for a win," Harvick said. "Hopefully, we can put ourselves in a good spot throughout the weekend and be around somewhere at the end of both races."
Harvick holds the record for most Nationwide wins at Richmond with six.
"This has just been a great racetrack for me, just for the fact that for whatever reason it has fit my driving style through the years," he said. "I grew up on a lot of flat, worn-out racetracks, and my days at [Richard Childress Racing] we spent a lot of time on our flat track program and short- track program. My driving has become accustom to these types of tracks."
Harvick's first season at SHR has had its share of highs and lows. After winning at Phoenix, he finished outside the top-35 in four of the next five races before his victory at Darlington.
It's been a season of twists and turns for SHR as well. Kurt Busch, also in his first year with SHR, won at Martinsville last month. But Busch has finished 31st and 39th in the past two races. Tony Stewart struggled at the start of the season but has rebounded with four top-10 finishes in the last five events. Danica Patrick's best finish this year is 14th, which came in Fontana, Calif.
"I think as you look at the organization I think we have a lot of room for improvement, still a lot of new things that are happening," Harvick said. "Obviously, we have been through eight weeks, and we know that there are a lot of things to work on and improve on that is exciting just for the fact that we have been able to run well with our car. Kurt [Busch] has won a race, and Tony [Stewart] has been knocking off some top-fives.
"So I think as you look at everything from the outside looking in I'm sure it appears that everything is going well and everything is going well. But from the inside, I just feel very strongly that there is a ton of room for improvement with a lot of things, so we just have to keep working and not sit on our hands."
While Harvick has two wins, six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has yet to drive into victory lane this season. Johnson has struggled at Richmond lately, finishing outside the top-10 in the past three races here. He's won at Richmond three times but his most recent victory here occurred in September 2008.
"We suck here," Johnson admitted. "We're terrible, and hopefully, we are a lot better this weekend. The last couple trips, especially, we have been junk."
Forty-five teams are on the entry list for the Toyota Owners 400.
ToyotaCare 250 - Richmond International Raceway - Richmond, Va.
Chase Elliott has quickly made a name for himself in NASCAR by winning back- to-back Nationwide Series races during his rookie season.
Elliott, who drives the No. 9 NAPA-sponsored Chevrolet for JR Motorsports and is the 18-year-old son of former NASCAR Cup Series champion Bill Elliott, will attempt to win his third consecutive Nationwide race on Friday night at Richmond International Raceway.
If Elliott can take the checkered flag at Richmond, he would become the first Nationwide regular to win three races in a row since Dale Earnhardt Jr., a co- owner of JR Motorsports, last did it in 1999. Earnhardt won in Dover, Del., South Boston, Va. and Watkins Glen, N.Y. during his second straight championship season that year.
Elliott's first career Nationwide win came on April 4 at Texas, his first time competing at that track. One week later, he won at Darlington, his maiden race there as well, after passing Elliott Sadler for the lead on the final lap.
"It was good to have two good weeks back-to-back like that, but at the same time, each week is so different, so you just got to take it one week at a time," Elliott said.
This will be the first time Elliott runs in a NASCAR national touring series race at Richmond. He has competed in two NASCAR K&N Pro Series East events at this three-quarter-mile racetrack, finishing second in the 2012 event.
"It's obviously different from car to car since the last time I was here in a K&N race two years ago, so it's a pretty big difference from those cars," he said. "I think it's a neat racetrack and always seems to put on a good show."
Nationwide teams practiced at Richmond on Thursday. Elliott made more laps than any other driver during the first practice (47 laps) and the final practice (84). He was sixth quickest in P1 (121.622 mph) and fifth fastest in P2 (121.027 mph). Ryan Blaney had the best lap overall at 122.421 mph.
"I thought there at times our car was okay, but at times I didn't think it was very good, so we definitely have some work to do for the race," Elliott said. "I think running laps is a good thing. I think it just kind of simulates a little bit more of what you're going to see in the race here. You're not going to make five, six-lap runs in the race. You're going to be making 50, 60, 70, 100-lap runs. So I feel like trying to simulate that the best you can is hopefully going to be beneficial for us."
Elliott currently holds a 13-point lead over second-place and JRM teammate Regan Smith. He began the season with a 15th-place run at Daytona but has finished no worse than ninth since.
Forty teams are on the entry list for the ToyotaCare 250. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson are those Sprint Cup Series regulars scheduled to compete in this race. Daniel Suarez, a NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series and K&N Pro Series East competitor, is expected to make his Nationwide debut at Richmond.
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES
Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama - Barber Motorsports Park - Birmingham, Ala.
The Verizon IndyCar Series runs its third race of the season this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park.
After winning the season-opener on March 30 in St. Petersburg, Fla. and then finishing second in the April 13 race in Long Beach, Calif., Will Power holds a 27-point lead in the championship standings. Mike Conway won on the streets of Long Beach and moved up to second in points.
Team Penske had been the only team to win an IndyCar race at Barber, with Helio Castroneves taking the checkered flag for the inaugural event in 2010 and then Power scoring the victory here in 2011 and '12.
But Ryan Hunter-Reay from Andretti Autosport ended Penske's dominance at this 2.38-mile, 17-turn road course last year. Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar champion, started on the pole and led 53 of 90 laps. Scott Dixon challenged Hunter-Reay in the closing laps, but he beat Dixon to the finish line by just 0.6 seconds.
"We had one of those race weekends you strive to achieve each time you show up at the track," Hunter-Reay said of his 2013 win at Barber. "Taking the win from pole at such a challenging track was a tremendous achievement by our team as a whole and proved that our preparation for the road courses had paid off. Hopefully, we can defend our win, but it will be tough, as hundredths of a second in qualifying could prove to be the difference maker."
Hunter-Reay led the way in Friday's opening practice at Barber. His fastest of nine laps made in P1 was clocked in 1 minute, 8.8470 seconds. Josef Newgarden was second quickest, followed by Castroneves. Power placed 12th on the charts.
IndyCar teams tested at Barber for two days last month. Power had the fastest laps in each of those days. Penske drivers Castroneves, Power and Juan Pablo Montoya, who is new to the team this year, also practiced at this track in February.
"I love racing at Barber," Power said. "You love any track where you've had a lot of success. It just fits my driving style well. Barber is very high speed with a lot of banking. There aren't many road courses like it that we go to. Unfortunately, Hunter-Reay broke our streak of Team Penske wins at Barber last year.
"We hope to take our spot back this year with the No. 12 Verizon Chevy. I expect the track to be much different than it was at the test in February, but it's encouraging for us that we were really fast then. It had a ton of grip, because it was much colder than it will be on Sunday. I still believe we'll have plenty of speed to contend for the win though."
Twenty-three teams are on the entry list for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.