Sprint Cup Series
Duck Commander 500 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, Texas
Six races, six different winners.
The 2014 season in NASCAR's premier series has begun in record fashion during the Chase for the Sprint Cup era. Not since 2003, the year before the championship Chase format began, has there been six different winners to start the season. The record for most different winners to begin the season is 10, which was set in 2000.
Last Sunday, Kurt Busch won at Martinsville after rebounding from a pit-road incident with Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne early in the race and then passing Jimmie Johnson for the lead with 11 laps to go. Busch held off Johnson at the finish by just 0.26 seconds to snap an 83-race winless drought in Sprint Cup. He also joined his younger brother, Kyle, as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Keselowski as those drivers who have all but guaranteed themselves a berth in this year's Chase.
NASCAR has expanded the field of drivers/teams in the Chase from 12 to 16. The top-15 drivers with the most wins during the 26-race regular season will become eligible for the playoffs, provided they have finished in the top-30 in points. The 16th and final position will go to the driver who is the highest in points without a victory.
If there are more than 15 winners when the regular season concludes on Sept. 6 at Richmond, a race winner could be left out of the Chase. But that's not likely to happen.
There were 13 different winners after 26 races in 2000 and 16 different winners following 26 events in 2003. Matt Kenseth held the points lead and had one victory heading into the 27th race of the '03 season.
The seventh race this season takes place on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. The spring event at this 1.5-mile racetrack had been held on a Saturday night in the past three years, but this Saturday, the national semifinals of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament (Final Four) is taking place at nearby AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Qualifying for the 500-mile race at Texas is scheduled for Saturday at 2:10 p.m. local time (3:10 p.m. ET).
Will we see another new winner this season on Sunday at Texas?
It's quite possible, particularly with Johnson, the six-time and defending series champion, and Kenseth, who finished second in points last year, not having been to victory lane yet this season. In 2013, Kenseth scored a series- season-high seven wins, followed by Johnson with six victories.
Johnson's most recent win came at Texas last November. Two weeks ago in Fontana, Calif., he led a race-high 104 laps but blew his left-front tire in the closing laps, which led to a 24th-place finish. Johnson finished second at Martinsville after leading the most laps there with 296.
"Texas is one of the more interesting racetracks we race on," Johnson said. "The characteristics of the track - the bumps and the surface - will make for an exciting race. So far with six winners in six races, the racing in 2014 has been really exciting for the fans. We've run up front and led a lot but haven't been able to finish the job."
Johnson and Edwards lead all drivers with three wins each at Texas. Kenseth has two victories here, with his most recent occurring in April 2011.
"Texas has been one of our better tracks, at least statistically, and how we generally performed here," Kenseth said. "Last spring, we didn't run particularly well. Last fall, we ran better. I got myself put to the back kind of toward the middle of the race and was able to work our way back to fourth or something like that.
"It's a fun track. It's one I've really enjoyed since the first time I came here. I'm looking forward to this weekend. There's a few different things with that new right-side tire and obviously the new rules on the cars and all that stuff."
Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart are two-time Sprint Cup race winners at Texas, and neither one of those drivers has scored a victory this season.
Forty-seven teams are on the entry list for the Duck Commander 500.
O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, Texas
After taking a break last week, the Nationwide Series resumes its schedule on Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
It's the sixth race of the season for the series. Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne enter this 300-mile event sharing the top spot in the championship standings -- 185 points apiece.
In Thursday's practice sessions at Texas, Smith posted the third fastest lap overall at 179.850 mph, while Bayne was fourth overall on the charts at 179.653 mph.
"Our [car] has been fast from the moment we hit the track," Smith said. "It's really comfortable and has a lot of speed - both important elements at Texas. We spent most of our time fine tuning on it. I think our biggest hurdle was probably turn three, but we worked through it."
Smith won the Feb. 22 Nationwide season-opener at Daytona and then finished eighth the following week at Phoenix before placing 10th in each of the previous three races (Las Vegas, Bristol and Fontana, Calif.).
Bayne has started the season with five consecutive top-10 finishes as well. This is the first time in his six-year Nationwide career that he has held or shared the points lead.
"We have been steadily climbing up the points ladder, and I'm hoping to take the top spot this weekend," Bayne said. "The guys [No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing team] have been working really hard to get me fast cars, and I think it's paying off."
Bayne's first career win in Nationwide came in November 2011 at Texas. He finished 26th in last year's spring race here and 11th in the fall event.
Smith had top-10 finishes in both races at this track during the 2013 season.
Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson are those Sprint Cup Series regulars scheduled to compete in this race. Busch holds the record for most Nationwide wins at Texas with six, including a victory here one year ago. Larson claimed his first career win in the series two weeks ago in Fontana.
Forty teams are on the entry list for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300.
Bahrain Grand Prix - Bahrain International Circuit - Sakhir, Bahrain
Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes has begun his weekend in Bahrain in the same fashion that he concluded last weekend's race in Malaysia, setting the pace ahead of his teammate, Nico Rosberg.
Mercedes has been the dominant team up to this point in the 2014 Formula One season. Rosberg won the March 16 season-opening Australian Grand Prix, while Hamilton claimed the victory in last Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix. Rosberg, who finished second to Hamilton in Malaysia, is the current leader in the world championship point standings.
This Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix will be the first time this race is held at nighttime.
On Friday, Hamilton topped the time charts in both practice sessions. The Briton led the way in P1 with a lap in 1 minute, 37.502 seconds and set the pace again in P2, turning a lap in 1:34.325. Rosberg was second quickest in the two sessions.
Hamilton has yet to win the Bahrain GP in six previous attempts. He finished second in this race during his 2007 rookie season and placed third in the 2010 event.
"It was great to kick-start my season with a win in Malaysia," Hamilton said. "Taking a one-two was also a fantastic result for the team, and I can't wait to see what we can do in Bahrain. I've finished on the podium here a couple of times here, but for one reason or another, I've never managed to get the win. Until last week, it was the same story for me with Malaysia. So fingers crossed this can be the year of breaking those cycles."
Rosberg's best finish in the Bahrain GP is fifth (2010 and '12). He started on pole but finished ninth in last year's event here.
"The first two races have been a great start to my season, and I'm already looking forward to being back in the car and carrying on that momentum in Bahrain," Rosberg said. "It's a great track, and I really enjoy driving it. I've never had much luck on race weekends here, but it's definitely the one I'm best prepared for this year."
Hamilton and Rosberg were very quick in Bahrain during winter testing in February and March.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was third fastest in the first two practices for the Bahrain GP. Alonso has won this event three times (2005, '06 and '10), which is more than any other driver.
Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull has won the last two Bahrain GPs. Vettel, the four-time defending world champion, retired early in Australia but bounced back nicely in Malaysia with a third-place finish.
"The track here is quite tricky, as you have got a lot of straights, and therefore we have got to save quite a lot of fuel on Sunday compared to Malaysia," Vettel said. "Already in testing and for sure at the first two races, we have seen that Mercedes has the strongest package. They are way quicker than us on the straights, so it will be difficult to keep up with them.
"But a very positive thing that we have seen in the first two races is that our car has potential, so it is up to us now to get the best out of what we have at the moment."
Vettel was 10th on the time charts in P1 (1:39.389) and seventh in P2 (1:35.606).