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This Week in Auto Racing July 18 - July 20

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=== This Week in Auto Racing July 18 - July 20 === by Steve Schwarz, Auto Racing Editor Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - NASCAR travels to Loudon, NH - site of triumph and tragedy. While and earned their first wins at the New Hampshire International Speedway, two drivers Kenny Irwin Jr. and 19-year-old Adam Petty lost their lives in accidents at the 1.058-mile oval. NASCAR New England 300 - New Hampshire International Speedway - Loudon, NH When we last left the 1.058-mile New Hampshire International Speedway oval, had just scored the first victory of his Winston Cup career. Newman has significantly added to his win total in 2003 with a series-high three victories (Kurt Busch also has three wins) through the first half of the season, including a win last week at the Chicagoland Speedway. Despite his victories, Newman has had an up and down 2003 campaign. Along with his wins and five other top-10s, the No.12 Penske Racing driver has a disappointing five DNFs. After finishing the 2002 championship in sixth place and being selected as the Winston Cup Rookie of the Year, Newman was expected to seriously compete for the title in 2003. Unfortunately, Newman began the season with a dramatic, end-over-end crash in the Daytona 500 and the team has continued to suffer bad racing luck throughout the season. Meanwhile, defending New England 300 champion has suffered a different kind of luck. His Bill Davis Racing team was declared persona non grata at Dodge after being caught while doing work for Toyota's truck racing program which is set to begin next season. Since that announcement the team has just one top-15 finish in five races. Burton finished 19th last week at Chicagoland. Still, BDR is looking forward to the New England 300 because they think they have improved their short-track program. "Last year's win at New Hampshire was a very exciting day for us," said Burton. "It had always been a track where the team had struggled, however, last spring, our short track program really came together starting at Richmond. In spite of an exciting championship race between , and ., most of the talk when the Winston Cup circuit travels to NHIS is about safety. On May 8, 2000 fourth-generation NASCAR driver Adam Petty died from head injuries suffered when his race car slammed into a wall at NHIS. Exactly two months later, 1998 Winston Cup Rookie of The Year Kenny Irwin Jr. died of multiple injuries in another high-speed crash. Though owner Bob Bahre has tried to improve the track, it is still one of the most dangerous in the series. The good news for race fans is that when the Winston Cup drivers return to the Loudon, NH track in the fall, SAFER barriers will have been installed. The barriers, built from steel rods and layers of cushioned foam, will be attached to the outside walls in all four turns. "Bob Bahre has done just about everything we've asked," said Earnhardt Jr. "As far as race tracks, it wouldn't be on my top-10 as far as my favorite race tracks to go to. But as far as what they've done and how many things they've tried, you have to be impressed." Busch New England 200 - New Hampshire International Speedway - Loudon, NH In 16 previous NASCAR Busch Series events at the New Hampshire International Speedway dating back to 1990, there have been no repeat winners. However, that streak may come to an end this weekend, when defending champion . comes to the 1.058-mile oval. "We are all looking forward to defending our title in New Hampshire on Saturday," said Hamilton Jr. "We had to drive our way from the back of the field to the front last season to win the race, but the Team Marines Ford was awesome that day." Hamilton Jr. enters this week's event off a stellar effort at the Chicagoland Speedway in which he crossed the finish line 4.503 seconds ahead of a star- studded field which included many Winston Cup regulars. Hamilton Jr. led 186 of 200 laps to beat Winston Cup points leader , , , and at least three other "Buschwhackers." The 25-year-old son of former Winston Cup regular Bobby Hamilton became the first Busch Series regular to win a Busch race during a combined Busch/Winston Cup race weekend. Hamilton Jr. has recorded five top-10 finishes since Harold Holly joined the No.25 Chevrolet team as crew chief six races ago. After the first 19 races, just 80 points separate the top five drivers in the championship standings. leads the points race with 2,591, but is closely followed by (2,568), Jr. (2,534), (2,522) and (2,511). And Hamilton Jr. is just 157 points behind Riggs. Tammy Jo Kirk will attempt to become the eighth woman to compete in the Busch Series, driving the No.49 Ford for Jay Robinson Racing. The last female driver to compete in the series was Tina Gordon, who finished 10th at the Talladega Superspeedway on April 5th. Craftsman Ram Tough 200 - Gateway International Raceway - Madison, IL After the 12th Craftsman Truck Series event in 2002, defending race champion Terry Cook was riding high. He had just earned his third win of the season (by a whopping 8.654 seconds), his sixth top-five finish and was sitting fifth in the championship. Going into the 12th race of the 2003 season, the driver of the No.29 Ford is ninth in the championship with zero wins and zero top-fives. In fact his best finish is a seventh-place result in the GNC Live Well 200 at the Milwaukee Mile. Cook does have eight top-10s, but has not really been in the running for a win so far this season. Meanwhile, a pair of Roush Racing youngsters (Jon Wood and rookie ) have been dominating the series of late. Wood took the victory two week's ago at the Kansas Speedway (with Edwards finishing second) and last week Edwards went to Victory Lane. On Tuesday afternoon, Roush Racing announced that the pair would stay in the series for the remainder of the 2003 season. It had been rumored that Roush might close its truck operation which was one of the original teams back in 1995. "We have two winners in Jon and Carl, a program with momentum and confidence, and a very real chance to win another championship," said Roush Racing president Geoff Smith. INDYCAR Firestone Indy 200 - Nashville Superspeedway - Lebanon, TN IndyCar Series and CART veteran Alex Barron, who replaced injured Mo Nunn Racing driver Arie Luyendyk at this year's Indianapolis 500, returns to the team this weekend to sub for the injured Felipe Giaffone in the No.21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota in the Firestone Indy 200 at the Nashville Superspeedway. Giaffone had surgery last week to repair a fractured right femur and pelvis from an accident with driver Dan Wheldon at the Kansas Indy 300. Barron, who finished fifth in the championship last season, also happens to be the defending champion at Nashville. "We're going to be under the gun once again, but aside from the Speedway at Indy, I can't think of a better situation or a track to jump back into a race car on short notice," Barron said. "Having won the Nashville race last year, and having been a part of the Mo Nunn team at Indy this year, I think our chances of being competitive in the race Saturday night are very, very good." And speaking of "super subs," driver Bryan Herta (substituting for Dario Franchitti) pulled off a stunning victory at the Kansas Indy 300. Herta will drive for the remainder of the season in the No.27 Andretti/Green Racing Honda. Meanwhile, Tony Kanaan continues to lead the championship despite no victories since the second event of the season at Phoenix. The Brazilian has kept a tight grip on the championship with five consecutive top-five results and has seven in the eight races to date. "Scoring points for the championship is very important, but the main thing is winning races," said Kanaan. "Right now, we're concentrating on winning races, but being smart to evaluate the situations that we have and make the best out of it if you can't win." Second in the title chase is Scott Dixon, who has three wins this season. If not for a bad stretch early in the season when he finished 20th, 15th and 17th, the New Zealand native would be leading the championship. "We had two main goals at the beginning of the season," said Dixon. "One was to win Indy (finished 17th) and the other was to win the championship. We fell short at Indy, but we're in reach of the championship. "The team has given me cars that can win races at every track that we have been to. If we can keep winning races, we'll be right there at the end." FORMULA ONE British Grand Prix - Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit - Silverstone, England For defending champion Michael Schumacher, the last few weeks have been frustrating as the Williams/BMW team has dominated the Formula One Series sweeping first and second in the last two events. Still, the five-time champion is confident in his car and his team for this week's British Grand Prix at Silverstone. "I am sure that we will be very competitive at Silverstone," said Schumacher. "We will have a few new parts on the car and that means we can be optimistic about the British Grand Prix." Schumacher, who clinched last year's championship at mid-season, leads McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen by just eight points. The Williams/BMW team of Ralf Schumacher and Juan Montoya are also in the battle just 11 and 17 points behind respectively. "The car is quick on a variety of circuits so we should be able to produce a good result at Silverstone, as long as the British weather is kind to us," said Ralf Schumacher, who has won the last two races (European and French Grand Prix). "It's not unusual to get a lot of wet running during the British Grand Prix weekend, which doesn't really suit our tires too much," said Montoya. Expect Ferrari's Michael Schumacher to rebound this week and collect the victory.

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