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    This Week in Auto Racing May 10 - 12

    1:01 PM, May 9, 2013   |    comments
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    Darlington, SC (Sports Network) - The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are running at one of NASCAR's most historic racetracks, Darlington Raceway, this weekend. Formula One is in Europe for the first time this season with the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.

    NASCAR

    Sprint Cup Series

    Bojangles' Southern 500 - Darlington Raceway - Darlington, S.C.

    Jeff Gordon is expected to reach another milestone in his already illustrious NASCAR career this weekend at Darlington Raceway.

    Gordon, at age 41, will make his 700th career start -- all consecutively -- in the Sprint Cup Series. He will become the 15th driver in NASCAR's top circuit to compete in 700 or more races.

    "I've been fortunate to race this long and have the type of career I've had," Gordon said. "It's really cool to see that this will be my 700th start, but it's not something I really paid attention to. It's hard to believe I've run that many - especially consecutively."

    Since his Cup debut on Nov. 15, 1992 at Atlanta, Gordon has evolved from the "Wonder Boy," a nickname given to him by Dale Earnhardt in 1995, to one of the most accomplished drivers in the sport. The four-time Sprint Cup champion has scored 87 wins, including three Daytona 500 victories, 299 top-5 finishes, 416 top-10s and 72 poles in 699 career starts. He also has a NASCAR-record $131,087,923 in career winnings to date.

    Darlington has been one of Gordon's best racetracks over the years. His seven victories here is tops among all active drivers. David Pearson holds the track record with 10 wins, followed by Earnhardt with nine.

    Gordon has recorded 18 top-five finishes, 21 top-10s and three poles in 32 starts at Darlington as well. His total of 1,720 laps led around this 1.366- mile "egg-shaped" oval is best among active drivers.

    "I always look forward to going to Darlington," he said. "It's a great track. It's fast and exciting. It's not the same track it used to be 10 years ago, but it's still one of those tracks where you have to push hard, be patient. We've run good there the last couple of times, so I'm looking forward to it."

    Six of Gordon's seven victories at Darlington have come in the Southern 500. He won this race consecutively from 1995-98 and then took the checkered flag for the 2002 and '07 events. Gordon won the 400-mile spring race here in 1996. He finished 35th in last year's 500-miler at Darlington.

    Right now, Gordon is 14th in the point standings. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, holds a sizeable 41-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards.

    Johnson is the defending race winner at Darlington. When the series competed here one year ago, he gave team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th win in Cup. Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports also ended a 16-race winless streak.

    "I know we were all trying very hard to get that 200th win for Rick," Johnson said. "All of our teams were close multiple times. Martinsville would have been extremely fitting, obviously, but Darlington has a great feel to it too. And, to understand some of Rick's early memories and the first race he ever went to watch being there at Darlington, it ties it all in.

    "The history that track has in our sport, and that of Hendrick Motorsports and the history of NASCAR, it fits very well. It's a tough, tough racetrack to get around. I'm proud of every win I have there, and especially that 200th win."

    Gordon delivered HMS its 50th victory in March 1996 at Darlington. He also gave the racing organization its 100th win in June 2001 at Michigan. Gordon shares ownership of Johnson's No. 48 team with Hendrick.

    "Jeff is an icon of our sport," Johnson said. "When I was young, I bought his diecast car. It sat on a shelf in my room. I didn't know him. I watched him through the Thursday night thunder racing. He gave me hope as a young driver with a different background that I could end up in a stock car. I watched him through all of his amazing seasons. Then I met him and got to know him. He brought me on board, racing against him for wins and championships.

    "It's been a wild situation for me, because literally, I was a fan, and then to be able to race against him and all of that, it was kind of mind-blowing. It's been a very cool experience."

    Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Bojangles's Southern 500.

    Nationwide Series

    VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 - Darlington Raceway - Darlington, S.C.

    Regan Smith is not only fresh off a victory at Talladega Superspeedway but atop the Nationwide Series point standings for the first time in his career as well.

    Smith won last Saturday's Nationwide race at Talladega in a thrilling finish. With pushing help from his teammate and Sprint Cup Series regular Kasey Kahne, Smith charged from seventh to first on the final lap. He pulled ahead of Joey Logano for the lead by just inches when the caution came for a seven-car wreck that occurred on the frontstretch. It took several minutes for race officials to declare Smith as the winner, as they reviewed the finish.

    Spending the past five seasons in Sprint Cup, Smith returned to Nationwide full-time this year, driving the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, which is co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Smith won the 2012 Nationwide season-finale at Homestead, Fla. in his stellar debut with JRM. It was also his first win in the series.

    Smith came to Talladega only one point behind Sam Hornish Jr., but Hornish finished 25th after being caught up in a big wreck on the backstretch during the closing laps and fell 27 points out of the lead. Smith has scored six top-10 finishes in the first eight Nationwide races this season.

    "We've had a lot of work that's gone on during the offseason and during the season, and these guys (No. 7 team) have been working hard week in and week out," Smith said. "As a team, it's just been a steady progression. We feel like we're getting better and better."

    This is also the first time a driver from JRM has been atop the point rankings. The team began competing in NASCAR's second-tier series in 2005. Brad Keselowski, who drove for JRM during part of the 2007 season and all of '08 and '09, went as high as second in the standings during the '08 season.

    "I'm really happy for Regan and the whole group," Earnhardt Jr. said. "They've been working so hard and so many late nights trying to get faster and trying to find that extra bit of speed that they need. They're trying to be as good as they can be. You can really see the effort between (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the whole group in the shop during the week. There is so much work they're doing, trying to learn and trying to gel as fast as they can, because they know that they have a great opportunity this year."

    Darlington has become a very special place for Smith. The Cato, N.Y. native scored his first career Sprint Cup victory at this racetrack in May 2011.

    "There is just something about Darlington," he said. "Every time I pull in there, I feel good and I enjoy it. The best way I can describe Darlington is it's the racing equivalent to Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. It's so legendary with the history and tradition there. It's almost like you can see that all the time, the history, and the age that is in that place. I got a really cool parking spot in 'Champion's Alley' after my Cup win there too. I always make sure to take a picture of it when I'm there."

    Smith has not competed in a Nationwide race at Darlington since 2007. His best finish in four previous starts here is 12th, which came in '07.

    Forty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for the VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200. Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano are those drivers scheduled to compete in this event. Logano is the defending race winner.

    FORMULA ONE

    Spanish Grand Prix - Circuit de Catalunya - Barcelona, Spain

    The "European tour" of the 2013 Formula One season begins this weekend with the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya.

    When F1 came to Barcelona one year ago, Pastor Maldonado from Williams pulled off a stunning victory in the Spanish GP. Maldonado and Fernando Alonso from Ferrari exchanged the lead several times throughout the 66-lap race. Alonso trailed him by less than one second in the closing laps but wound up finishing 3.2 seconds behind.

    Maldonado scored his maiden F1 victory in the Spanish GP. He also became the first Venezuelan driver in the sport to win a race.

    "It will be very special to return to Barcelona after my win there last season," Maldonado said. "While all the drivers know the track very well and we have some good data from testing here earlier in the year, the track changes quite a lot so you still need to familiarize yourself with the conditions during practice and set up the car accordingly."

    Maldonado was also credited with his first pole win in last year's Spanish GP. He originally qualified second but inherited the pole after Lewis Hamilton, who drove for McLaren at the time, was stripped of the position due to a fuel violation in qualifying.

    Unfortunately, the race-winning celebration for Maldonado and Williams at the Barcelona circuit was quickly interrupted when a fire broke out in their garage area. The fire erupted when there was a problem with the KERS on one of Williams' cars. There were no injuries, but the flames caused extensive damage to the team's equipment in the garage, including Bruno Senna's car. Senna was involved in an early-race collision with Michael Schumacher.

    Since winning the Spanish GP last year, Maldonado has finished no better than fifth in a grand prix and has scored just 12 points. He has no points this season, with his best finish of 11th coming three weeks ago in Bahrain.

    "At the moment, we are living hard moments, especially this start to the season has been very hard for us," Maldonado said. "We're working very hard. The spirit is quite high in the team. We are working together as friends, as family, as a real team. We really hope to improve our performance quite soon, and hopefully we will be there fighting for good places."

    Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, the three-time defending F1 champion, comes to Barcelona with a 10-point lead over Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus. Vettel has won two of the first four grand prix this season (Malaysia and Bahrain). He won the Spanish GP in 2011 and finished sixth in it last year.

    Hamilton, now in his first season with Mercedes, is 27 points behind Vettel, while Alonso trails by 30. This is Alonso's "home race." He is the only Spaniard competing in F1 this year.

    "I think it motivates you to race at home, and you give an extra 10 percent on what you normally do, to take care of every detail of the weekend, starting from (Friday's) practice," Alonso said. "You try to do everything well because you know that a nice result here, a nice podium finish or whatever, will make you happy. It will make the team happy and make many people in the grandstands happy."

    Alonso won the Spanish GP in 2006.

    Raikkonen is the only active driver who has multiple victories in this race. He won it in 2005 and '08.

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