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This Week in Auto Racing July 16 - July 17

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=== This Week in Auto Racing July 16 - July 17 ===

by Steve Schwarz, Auto Racing Editor Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It is a relatively quite weekend for racing fans with Nextel Cup, Busch, Formula One and Champ Cars all taking time off. For the Nextel Cup drivers and teams, it is their last off weekend until Thanksgiving. NASCAR Craftsman Ram Tough 200 - Gateway International Raceway - Madison, IL While NASCAR officials ponder a green-white-checker finish for the Nextel Cup Series, the Craftsman Truck Series has successfully used the system for years. Last week's race at the Kentucky Speedway was the season's fifth green-white- checker finish and came to an exciting and safe conclusion when Bobby Hamilton drove underneath Jack Sprague in turn one of lap 152 for the 0.179-second victory. Hamilton had held leads as big as eight seconds over the final portion of the race, but needed to overtake Sprague after losing traction on lap 139 of the planned 150-lap event. "I never really got nervous on the final restart," said Hamilton, who led a race-high 133 laps. "I knew we wouldn't have enough time to get up to speed, so I needed to do it right after the flag fell. I got up under him going in to turn one and just held it to the mat." This week's Ram Tough 200 at the Gateway International Raceway marks the series' seventh consecutive week of racing, the longest stretch of the season. When this current string of races began, Dennis Setzer held a 37-point lead over Carl Edwards. Rick Crawford (-117), Bobby Hamilton (-121) and Matt Crafton (-136) were the top-five drivers. Despite Hamilton's win in Kentucky, Setzer held his lead over the six week stretch, but by only six points over the No.4 Dodge driver. Crawford has faded to third, 100 points behind, with Crawford (-152) and Crafton (-161) still lurking in the top-five. Edwards, who has finished outside the top-20 in two of the last three events, finished a solid fourth at the 1.25-mile Gateway track last July. Brendan Gaughan, who has since graduated to the Nextel Cup Series, was the dominant driver that day, leading 112 of 160 laps en route to a 0.222-seconds victory. Steve Park will be in Gaughan's No.62 Dodge this weekend. "I remember racing at Gateway in 1997, and it was the hottest race ever," said the veteran driver to truckseries.com. "We raced during the day, and I think that race is why they race at night now. I like the track. Martinsville is usually described as two dragstrips with a U-turn, but Gateway is by far more like that description. It has long straightaways with tight corners." The former Nextel Cup driver is mired in 12th place in the standings and could use a "Gaughan-like" performance. INDYCARS Firestone Indy 200 - Nashville Superspeedway - Lebanon, TN The Firestone Indy 200 marks the halfway point of the 2004 IndyCar Series schedule. As the drivers and teams prepare for the 200-lap race at the 1.33-mile Nashville Superspeedway, the title chase seems to be between three Andretti/Green Racing drivers (Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon, Bryan Herta), Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice and Penske's Helio Castroneves. Kanaan leads everyone on the basis of two wins, two second-place results and a total of six top-fives in seven races. His worst finish was an eight-place finish in the opener at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Wheldon, 28 points behind, and Rice, 50 points back, have been less consistent than Kanaan and both have finished outside the top-eight on two occasions. While Penske Racing has had a "down" year to date, with Castroneves and two- times series champion Sam Hornish Jr. behind the wheel, they can never be counted out. The Brazilian is still in the title chase with six top-10s, but the team's only victory was the season opener by Hornish Jr. at Homestead. After four team wins in 2002 and five wins last year, Penske Racing could still make a run at the championship. Defending series champion Scott Dixon has disappointed in 2004. He won three times, scored five poles and posted 11 top-10s in 2003, but through the first eight events this year, the No.1 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Toyota driver has only one second-place finish among his four top-10s. "It's been a bit of a struggle for us lately, but the Target team is working very hard to turn things around," said Dixon to indyracing.com. "Nashville Superspeedway is a good track for us. I started on pole and finished second there last year, and we're hoping that we can have that kind of success again this year." Dixon finished second to retired Gil de Ferran last year. Watch for Alex Barron to have a big effort this week. The No.51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Chevrolet driver has finished in the top-five in his only two visits to the concrete oval. In his 2002 debut he went to Victory Lane and last year he finished fifth.

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