NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

 
                 === This Week in Auto Racing Nov. 16 - 18 ===
 
 By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
 
 Philadelphia,  PA  (Sports Network) - While  Formula One returns to the United
 States  for  the first time  in five years, the  championships in all three of
 NASCAR's national touring series will be decided in the season-ending races at
 Homestead-Miami Speedway.
 
 
 NASCAR
 
 Sprint Cup Series
 
 Ford EcoBoost 400 - Homestead-Miami Speedway - Homestead, Fla.
 
 It ain't over till it's over.
 
 That's  the  mindset of Jimmie Johnson  heading into this weekend's Sprint Cup
 Series season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
 
 Johnson  fell 20  points behind leader Brad Keselowski after finishing 32nd in
 last  Sunday's penultimate  race at  Phoenix due  to an  accident in  the late
 going.  Keselowski  had trailed Johnson by  seven points, but after his sixth-
 place  finish at Phoenix,  he is now in the driver's seat to win the Chase for
 the Sprint Cup championship.
 
 "Certainly  if  you have the choice  you always want to  be in the lead of the
 points, especially in the closing races, so I'm thankful for that," Keselowski
 said.  "But  I also know  that the troubles that  (Johnson's team) had are the
 same  troubles  that we  could have  (this) week, and  so you  try not to take
 anything  for granted. You try to just focus on what lies ahead, and we've got
 to do the best job we can at Homestead."
 
 Keselowski  and  Johnson are the only  drivers who remain in title contention.
 The other 10 members in the Chase field have been mathematically eliminated.
 
 Keselowski  will clinch  his first Sprint Cup championship if he finishes 15th
 or  better at Homestead, regardless of Johnson's performance there. Keselowski
 can  also be  guaranteed the title if  he finishes 16th and leads at least one
 lap or places 17th after leading the most laps.
 
 Johnson  has battled back from a points deficit with one race to go to win the
 championship in the past. Two years ago, he trailed Denny Hamlin by 15 points,
 which  is roughly four under the current points system. Johnson's second-place
 finish  compared  to a 14th-place run  for Hamlin allowed Johnson to claim his
 record-extending fifth consecutive title.
 
 "My  focus is  going  down there  and  winning the  race,"  Johnson said.  "We
 typically haven't had to have that mentality going into this race, but we have
 shown  we  can race  for the  win. We did  it in  2010 against Denny, finished
 second  and won the championship. This 48 Lowe's team can do it again. We have
 nothing  to lose  and can  gamble  and take  chances. Brad  doesn't have  that
 luxury.  This  isn't over.  This team never  gives up, and  we don't intend to
 now."
 
 Johnson  has yet to  win in his 11 races at Homestead. Keselowski, though, has
 finished no better than 13th in his four starts there.
 
 If  Keselowski can win the championship, the 28-year-old would give team owner
 Roger  Penske  his first  title in NASCAR's  premier series. Keselowski's 2010
 Nationwide  Series  championship was Penske  Racing's maiden title in a NASCAR
 national touring circuit.
 
 "When  I first  came to Penske Racing,  I viewed it as an organization with so
 much  potential," Keselowski said.  "I had a vision for what I knew this place
 could become, and I shared that with Mr. Penske in our first meeting together.
 And  as  he began to give  (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe)  and I the things that we
 needed, we began to show results on the racetrack which, in turn, led to a lot
 of trust among myself, Mr. Penske, Paul and everyone else at Penske Racing.
 
 "So having a legitimate shot to win the championship this weekend is something
 that I take great pride in because I know we got there together."
 
 Keselowski  also  has an opportunity  to hand  Dodge a huge going-away present
 before the auto manufacturer bids farewell to NASCAR competition, at least for
 the  time being.  Keselowski  is  seeking to  become  the  first Dodge  driver
 champion  since Richard Petty in 1975. The auto maker departed the sport after
 the 1977 season and returned in 2001.
 
 "I  would hope  that they come back  as soon as possible," Keselowski said. "I
 would love to see that happen. I think it's important for the sport to have as
 many  participating  manufacturers as  possible, especially  one that fits the
 sport as Dodge does. I don't have a good feel for their vibe on it, but I hope
 to see them back soon."
 
 Penske Racing will field Fords for its Sprint Cup and Nationwide teams in 2013
 and beyond.
 
 If  Johnson  can pull  off a  remarkable comeback to  win the championship, it
 would be the record-extending 11th title for team owner Rick Hendrick. A sixth
 championship  for Johnson  would put him one behind the series record for most
 titles, shared by Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
 
 Forty-eight teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Ford EcoBoost 400.
 
 
 Nationwide Series
 
 Ford EcoBoost 300 - Homestead-Miami Speedway - Homestead, Fla.
 
 Ricky  Stenhouse  Jr. and  Elliott Sadler  have fought tooth  and nail for the
 Nationwide  Series  championship all year long,  and now it comes down to this
 weekend's season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to decide the title.
 
 Stenhouse  is seeking to become the sixth different driver to win back-to-back
 championships  in NASCAR's second-tier series. He presently leads Sadler by 20
 points,  which  is the  same point-separation between  Sprint Cup Series title
 contenders Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson.
 
 No  driver other  than Sadler  or Stenhouse  has led  in the  Nationwide point
 standings  this  season. Sadler has sat  no lower than second in the rankings,
 but  his  current 20-point  deficit is  his largest since  May when he trailed
 Stenhouse by 34 points.
 
 Rookie Austin Dillon, who is Sadler's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, is
 the  only other  driver who remains in contention for the championship. Dillon
 is 25 points out of the lead.
 
 Stenhouse  will clinch  the  championship if  he finishes  16th  or better  at
 Homestead.  The Roush  Fenway Racing driver is also guaranteed of the title if
 he  finishes 17th  or higher after leading  at least one lap or places 18th or
 better with the most laps led.
 
 "It's  not even  close to being over,"  Stenhouse said. "We still have to make
 sure  we  do everything at  Homestead. It's gonna  be tough, because I'm gonna
 have to not push the limits as much as I like. I like going for race wins too,
 so it's gonna be a fine balance there, because I want to win that race and win
 the championship all at the same time."
 
 Those drivers who have won successive championships in the series include: Sam
 Ard (1983-84), Larry Pearson (1986-87), Randy LaJoie (1996-97), Dale Earnhardt
 Jr. (1998-99) and Martin Truex Jr. (2004-05).
 
 "We  started the year  off counting points as soon as we started, and it would
 mean  a lot to  me to go back-to-back," Stenhouse said. "I think as a race car
 driver  you  come  out to  win  championships.  You  want  to win  races,  but
 championships  are what  last for a long  time. Last year was special. It felt
 like  we  didn't  have  a  dominant  year, so  even  though  it  was  still  a
 championship, it didn't feel like a championship year. This year has felt like
 it's been a championship year, so it would be huge."
 
 Stenhouse  and Sadler were tied in points heading into last Saturday's race at
 Phoenix,  but Sadler  finished 22nd after he was involved in a multi-car crash
 in the closing laps. Stenhouse posted a third-place run.
 
 Sadler  will compete in his last Nationwide race for RCR. He announced earlier
 this  year  that he is  leaving Childress' team at  season's end. It is widely
 rumored that Sadler will join Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2013 season.
 
 "It's  hard to believe that it is the last race of the season already," Sadler
 said. "This team has been great to work with. I love the determination and the
 heart  each member  of the team has,  and although we head to Homestead with a
 deficit,  we are not out of this championship. We will fight until the end. We
 have to finish off what we started, and we are as prepared as we need to be to
 go out there and make it happen."
 
 Neither  Stenhouse nor Sadler has won a previous Nationwide race at Homestead.
 Stenhouse  has finished second and fourth in his first two starts there, while
 Sadler  has  placed no  better than  fifth in  his six  races at this 1.5-mile
 racetrack. Dillon will compete in a Nationwide event there for the first time.
 
 Forty-eight teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Ford EcoBoost 300.
 
 
 Camping World Truck Series
 
 Ford EcoBoost 200 - Homestead-Miami Speedway - Homestead, Fla.
 
 With the top-three drivers separated by just 12 points, Friday's season-finale
 for the Camping World Truck Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway could be a wild
 battle for the championship.
 
 James  Buescher heads  to South  Florida with  an 11-point  lead over  Timothy
 Peters and a 12-point advantage over rookie Ty Dillon. Joey Coulter and Parker
 Kligerman  remain  mathematically eligible  for the championship, with Coulter
 trailing Buescher by 29 markers and Kligerman 37.
 
 Buescher  had  a setback  last week  at Phoenix, where  he finished 17th after
 blowing  a tire and  making contact with the wall in the closing laps. He came
 to Phoenix with a 15-point lead over Dillon.
 
 If  Buescher finishes seventh or better at Homestead, he will clinch his first
 Truck  Series  championship, regardless  of  any  other driver's  performance.
 Buescher  can also be guaranteed the title if he finishes eighth or higher and
 leads at least one lap or places ninth or better after leading the most laps.
 
 "This  team  knows what  it needs  to do," Buescher  said. "We've been running
 great  all year long, and I don't expect anything less than great for the last
 race  of  the year. We're going  to go down to  Miami to run our own race, and
 hopefully, we'll be celebrating a championship when the race is done."
 
 Buescher  has finished no better than 12th in his four previous truck races at
 Homestead.
 
 Peters had trailed Buescher by 25 points, but Peters gained significant ground
 in the standings after his fourth-place finish at Phoenix.
 
 "It feels good to be in this position," he said. "We've got a shot, and that's
 all we can ask for."
 
 Dillon  finished 15th at  Phoenix after he was caught up in one of many wrecks
 that  occurred  during the 153-lap race  there. Dillon competed in last year's
 rain-shortened truck race at Homestead, finishing sixth.
 
 "We're  going to do  our best to win this race," he said. "We had a good truck
 there  last year, and we've had some success on the 1.5-mile tracks this year.
 We  have  one more race to  claim the championship,  and I know we're going to
 fight hard to win it for (Richard Childress Racing)."
 
 Just twice since the season-finale shifted to Homestead in 2002 has the points
 lead  changed hands  in the final race. Travis Kvapil is the only third-ranked
 driver  to advance  to the title, leapfrogging Ted Musgrave and leader Brendan
 Gaughan  in  2003. Ron  Hornaday  Jr.  made up  a  29-point  deficit to  catch
 Mike  Skinner  in 2007. Jack Sprague  is the only other second-place driver to
 prevail  in  the  last  race  of  the  season,  edging  Greg  Biffle  for  the
 championship in 1999 at Fontana, Calif.
 
 Thirty-eight  teams  are on the  preliminary entry  list for the Ford EcoBoost
 200.
 
 
 FORMULA ONE
 
 United States Grand Prix - Circuit of the Americas - Austin, Texas
 
 For the first time in five years, Formula One will compete on American soil.
 
 The  new Circuit of the Americas -- a 3.4-mile, 20-turn road course located 15
 miles southeast of downtown Austin, Texas -- will host the United States Grand
 Prix  for the first time. Sunday's 56-lap USGP is the penultimate round in the
 20-race season. F1 will run its season-finale on Nov. 25 in Brazil.
 
 Fernando  Alonso's second-place finish coupled with a third-place run for two-
 time  defending world  champion Sebastian Vettel in the Nov. 4 Abu Dhabi Grand
 Prix allowed Alonso to trim Vettel's points lead from 13 to 10.
 
 "We  just need  to concentrate  on our  race,  and if  we finish  in front  of
 Sebastian in the next two races, then maybe we have a chance," Alonso said.
 
 Vettel  from  Red Bull  and Ferrari's  Alonso are the  only drivers who remain
 eligible for the championship. Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus won the Abu Dhabi GP,
 but  Raikkonen  has been mathematically eliminated  from the title race, as he
 trails  Vettel  by 57 points.  The maximum amount of  points a driver can earn
 over the next two rounds is 50. The race winner is awarded 25 points.
 
 Teams  will be faced  with a lot of unknowns at COTA. No active driver has yet
 to  make any laps  around the course. Former F1 driver David Coulthard drove a
 Red  Bull Racing showcar there when circuit construction had just begun. Lotus
 test driver Jerome d'Ambrosio piloted a 2010 Renault R30 on opening day at the
 track.  Teams  only have  simulator  data  to  help  them with  their  weekend
 preparations at this course.
 
 "We're  in the best possible position, so I think we're looking forward to the
 next race, a new grand prix and a new challenge," Vettel said. "It's difficult
 to know who is going to be quick."
 
 Vettel  is scheduled to  make his 100th career F1 grand prix start. The German
 made  his  F1 debut  in the  2007 USGP,  which was  held on Indianapolis Motor
 Speedway's  road course.  Substituting for  the injured  Robert Kubica  at BMW
 Sauber,  Vettel  finished eighth at Indy  to become the sport's youngest point
 scorer. He was 19 years old at the time.
 
 "I  think it's great that we are traveling to the United States again," Vettel
 said.  "I have  been in the simulator  learning the Austin track, how it flows
 and getting a general feel for it."
 
 Nine  U.S. venues  have previously hosted a F1 grand prix: Sebring, Riverside,
 Watkins Glen, Phoenix, Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas, Long Beach and Indy.
 
 Lewis  Hamilton  is the last winner  of the USGP,  doing so in '07. Racing for
 McLaren  in his  rookie season, Hamilton scored pole position and won at Indy.
 It  came  one week after he  recorded his maiden  F1 win in the Canadian Grand
 Prix in Montreal.
 
 "It's  crazy  to think that  the last United States  Grand Prix was five years
 ago,"  Hamilton said. "It's a race I still remember like yesterday, though the
 nervy  anticipation as  I drove into the [Indianapolis Motor] Speedway for the
 very  first time, the thousands of supportive fans and the fantastic car I had
 beneath  me that enabled  me to take my second grand prix victory in the space
 of a week. For me, those were incredible, thrilling times."
 
 Made  up of 11  left and nine right turns, COTA is one of just five current F1
 circuits to run anti-clockwise. Singapore, Korea, Abu Dhabi and Brazil are the
 others.
 
 COTA's  track surface  took four months to  lay, and the third and final layer
 was  completed in  late-September. The last layer is made up of aggregate from
 all over Texas. All told, over 640,000 cubic meters of material have been used
 to construct the track.
 
 "I  think  the Circuit of The  Americas looks like  it could also be the place
 that modern Formula One finally calls home," Hamilton noted. "I've only driven
 it  on  the computer and  in the (simulator),  but I think  it's going to be a
 track  that drivers  enjoy, which produces some great, close racing, and which
 fans will quickly love.
 
 "This  is a new circuit, a new challenge and a new opportunity. I'm definitely
 looking to be the first grand prix winner at the Circuit of The Americas."
 
 The  first  two practice sessions  for the USGP  are scheduled for Friday. The
 third and final practice will take place on Saturday, prior to qualifying.
 
 11/14 22:55:28 ET

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