Brad Keselowski enters this weekend's race as the Sprint Cup Series points leader.
By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosts round 2 in the 10- race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. The Camping World Truck Series is also at New Hampshire, while the Nationwide Series is racing at Kentucky Speedway. Formula One returns to Asia for the Singapore Grand Prix.
Sprint Cup Series
Sylvania 300 - New Hampshire Motor Speedway - Loudon, New Hampshire
Brad Keselowski enters this weekend's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as the points leader and the hottest driver in the Sprint Cup Series.
Two weeks ago, Keselowski won the series' regular-season-finale at Richmond and earned the first seed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship by virtue of his four victories this season. The driver of the No. 2 Ford for Team Penske then began the 10-race Chase last Sunday with a win at Chicagoland.
It's the first time in his Sprint Cup career that he has scored back-to-back victories.
Keselowski's win at Chicagoland assured him that he will advance into the second round of the Chase. He currently holds a seven-point lead over Jeff Gordon, who finished second in the Chase-opener.
"It felt good coming into the Chase as the top-seed, and it feels very good to know that we've advanced to the next round with two races to go," Keselowski said. "We have good momentum right now, and we know that we have to keep developing the car and pushing as a team, whether it's on pit road, handling, spec or driver tactics. We're just going to stay focused, keep working and see what happens."
Any driver who's in the 16-member Chase field that wins one of the three races in the opening round, known as the "Challenger Round," will automatically move on to the next round, referred to as the "Contender Round."
The Challenger Round will conclude with the Sept. 28 race at Dover, and the Contender Round, in which the Chase field is trimmed from 16 to 12, will begin with the Oct. 5 event at Kansas, followed by Charlotte (Oct. 11) and then Talladega (Oct. 19).
"That second bracket, the Contender Round, I think should be called the 'heartbreak round'," Keselowski said. "It's going to break someone's heart in the sense that a really good team will probably not make it through that bracket because of the random factor with Talladega and Kansas. That bracket is probably the most concerning to me."
Keselowski, the 2012 series champion, has won a Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire and Dover as well as Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega within the last two and a half years.
In July, Keselowski won at New Hampshire for the first time, coming in his 10th start here. Can he become the first driver in a decade to score a season- sweep at this flat 1.058-mile oval?
"I think we're definitely gonna have a lot of speed," he said. "I would be surprised if we didn't, but winning here at New Hampshire isn't all about speed. The strategy end always seems to come into play. I think more often than not this turns into a bit of a fuel mileage race for whatever reason. I'm not sure why. And that can really shake it up. It's so difficult to pass that being the fastest car here is probably more so than most other places not always the strongest indicator of success."
In 2003, Jimmie Johnson became the first driver to win both races at New Hampshire in the same season. Kurt Busch accomplished the feat here in 2004, the same year he won the inaugural Chase championship.
There have been 13 different winners in the last 13 Sprint Cup races at New Hampshire, which puts this track in a tie with Texas for the all-time record streak without a repeat winner.
When Keselowski won at New Hampshire two months ago, he led a race-high 138 laps, including the final 36.
"I like tracks we win at," he said. "Those are always my favorite. I tell people all the time when they ask what my favorite track is it's always the last one that I won at. It seems like a cheesy answer, but as a driver, we're very self-serving. Right now, my favorite race track is Chicago, and a few weeks ago before we won Richmond, I would have said Loudon (New Hampshire) was my favorite racetrack. So it's time to make Loudon my new favorite racetrack again."
Keselowski also has four top-five finishes and six top-10s as well as two poles at this track.
Forty-three teams are on the entry list for the Sylvania 300.
Saturday night's 300-mile race at Kentucky Speedway will be the last "stand- alone" event for the Nationwide Series this season.
The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series are racing at New Hampshire this weekend.
After Kentucky, Nationwide will join Sprint Cup at Dover, Kansas and Charlotte and then take two weeks off before it rejoins Cup at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead.
Of the final seven Nationwide races this season, five of them will be contested on 1.5-mile tracks, including Kentucky. Dover and Phoenix are both one mile in length.
Chase Elliott comes to Kentucky with an 18-point lead over second-place and JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith. Last Saturday, Smith finished eighth while Elliott placed 10th at Chicagoland. Both drivers have scored top-10 finishes in each of the last five races.
When Nationwide last ran at Kentucky in June, Smith had his worst result of the season with a 28th-place finish. Several Sprint Cup regulars competed in that event, including winner Kevin Harvick. Landon Cassill, a Nationwide regular, is the only driver who is attempting the New Hampshire/Kentucky combo.
"Kentucky is our last non-companion race, so naturally it's going to be a big opportunity for everybody to go out there and either gain a bunch of points or lose them," Smith said. "It's so tough without somebody having a problem to make points up the way the structure is, and the way the races play out in the Nationwide Series. If you're making up three or four points a week, that's been a good day. And that's the way you have to look at it."
Elliott, a rookie in Nationwide this season, finished 12th in his first start at Kentucky earlier this year.
"I've been eyeing this date for a while because we had a terrible run the first time we raced at Kentucky this year," Elliott said. "I finished 12th after starting sixth and just never put it together to get the finish we could have. My team and I are looking to bounce back from that poor performance and improve as much as possible Saturday night."
Ty Dillon, also a rookie this year, is third in the point standings (-40), followed by Elliott Sadler (-51) and Brian Scott (-56).
"I would say there is probably four or five of us that still have a shot at it (the Nationwide championship)," Smith said. "Realistically, maybe a couple of those guys need some bad luck from cars ahead of them. If somebody rolls off three or four wins in a row, those bonus points are huge and you're going to jump right back up into it pretty quickly."
Forty-one teams are on the entry list for the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300.
Camping World Truck Series
UNOH 175 - New Hampshire Motor Speedway - Loudon, New Hampshire
After a two-year hiatus, the Camping World Truck Series has returned to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The series will run 175 laps around this flat 1.058-mile track on Saturday. Three practice sessions were held here on Friday. Cole Custer had the fastest lap overall at 133.226 mph. Matt Crafton, the defending series champion and current points leader, was fifth quickest on the charts at 132.347 mph.
Last Saturday, Crafton's second-place finish coupled with a 14th-place run for Johnny Sauter at Chicagoland allowed Crafton to take a five-point lead over his ThorSport Racing teammate. Sauter held a seven-point advantage prior to Chicagoland.
With seven races to go, Crafton is trying to become the first driver in the 20-year history of the Truck Series to win back-to-back championships.
This will be the 17th time the series competes at New Hampshire. Crafton has 11 previous starts, which is more than any other driver entered in this race.
"It's been two years since the trucks have raced (at New Hampshire), but I've had some good runs there in the past," Crafton said. "We got our first pole there in 2005. To me, the biggest challenge at Loudon is the track itself. It's tough to run side-by-side because there is really only one preferred groove. The challenge is to stay patient and not get caught-up in a wreck trying to make something happen."
Crafton's best finish at New Hampshire is fourth, which occurred twice, most recently in 2010. Sauter has placed no worse than seventh in his first three truck races here (2009-11).
"New Hampshire is an awesome place to race," Sauter said. It's short-track racing at its best, and I'm a short-track racing kind of guy...I've always run well there in the trucks, even Nationwide and Cup.
Ryan Blaney is presently 16 points behind Crafton, while Darrell Wallace Jr. trails by 35 points.
Kyle Busch won the three previous truck races at New Hampshire, but Busch, a Sprint Cup Series regular and member of the championship Chase, is not competing in this year's event here.
Erik Jones will drive Busch's No. 51 Toyota at this track. Jones, who is running a partial schedule for Kyle Busch Motorsports this season, won at Iowa, a 0.875-mile track, in July.
Busch scored his sixth victory of the season at Chicagoland.
Thirty teams are on the entry list for the UNOH 175.
Singapore Grand Prix - Marina Bay Street Circuit - Singapore
Formula One has returned to Asia and is running under the lights this weekend in Singapore.
The 61-lap Singapore Grand Prix, which is contested on the Marina Bay Street Circuit, is considered one of the longest and toughest races on the F1 calendar.
With six races to go, Nico Rosberg holds a 22-point lead over his Mercedes teammate and championship rival Lewis Hamilton. After Singapore, F1 will compete in Japan, Russia, United States, and Brazil before the season concludes in Abu Dhabi.
Earlier this month, Hamilton bounced back from a poor start and then capitalized from a mistake made by Rosberg to win the Italian Grand Prix in Monza. Hamilton started on the pole but had a sluggish start when he experienced a glitch with his power unit, dropping him to fourth.
Rosberg gave up the lead to Hamilton during the mid-stages when he out-braked in the first corner and had to use the escape road to recover. Hamilton went on to beat Rosberg at the finish by 3.1 seconds for his sixth victory of the season. He also gained seven points on his teammate.
"It was a good feeling to finally get back on the top step at Monza, especially after another tough start to the race," Hamilton said. "Obviously with Nico coming second, I haven't been able to close the gap too much, but there's still plenty of points to be won, and I'm glad to have taken a step forward."
On Friday, Hamilton posted the fastest lap overall in practice, which came in the second session. He made a lap around this 3.259-mile (5.065-kilometer), 23-turn temporary street circuit in 1 minute, 47.490 seconds. Rosberg's best lap in P2 was clocked at 1:49.075, placing him 13th on the charts.
In P1, Fernando Alonso from Ferrari had the quickest lap in 1:49.056, while Hamilton was just 0.122 seconds off the pace. Rosberg was 0.149 seconds behind in third.
"Today was a work in progress," Hamilton said. "We made some changes between P1 and P2, and whether it was those changes or the track itself, the balance didn't feel right. It felt like we lost a bit of performance, but we'll look into the details and see what it was."
This will be the seventh time F1 has competed in Singapore. Four of the last five races here have been won from the pole position. Hamilton started on the pole and won this event in 2009 when he drove for McLaren.
"Pole here has always been very important," he said. "The right side of the grid, for example, always seems to get the better starts. Being up at the front will be crucial, and that's obviously my target for qualifying (Saturday). Nico (Rosberg) looks very quick, as do the Ferraris (Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen) and the Red Bulls (Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo), but I'm feeling good this weekend and I'm focused on the job."
Vettel has won the past three Singapore GPs. The four-time F1 world champion has yet to win this season.