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This Week in Auto Racing July 3 - July 6

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=== This Week in Auto Racing July 3 - July 6 === by Steve Schwarz, Auto Racing Editor Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The green flag will drop to start this week's racing on Friday night at the Daytona International Speedway with a Busch Series race. The action will continue non-stop until Sunday afternoon when the checkered flag waves for the Kansas Indy 300. With every motorsport series in mid-season form, the racing should be hotter than a firecracker. NASCAR Winston Cup Pepsi 400 - Daytona International Speedway - Daytona Beach, FL The NASCAR Winston Cup series opens the traditional second half of the 2003 season with a Saturday night restrictor-place race at the Daytona International Speedway. As has been the case over the past three years, DEI drivers . and will be heavy favorites to make the additional left turn into Victory Lane. The DEI pair have scored eight restrictor-plate victories in the last 10 races dating back to the 2001 Daytona 500. In fact, the DEI cars have been so dominant that in April at Talladega, "Junior" had the power to come from one lap down to win - a nearly impossible feat in today's restrictor-plate races. While the DEI drivers will get most of the attention this week, there will be 41 other drivers in the field, many of which will also have a chance to reach Victory Lane. That's what makes the Winston Cup series so exciting to watch. At the Daytona 500 in February, it was a Richard Childress Racing driver that posted the fastest qualifying time, not DEI. Recently fired No.30 Chevrolet driver grabbed the pole with a speed of 186.606 m.p.h. In addition to Green, the No.31 RCR Chevrolet of won the first of two Gatorade 125s. The "other" RCR driver, , has finished second and fourth in two restrictor-plate races this year. Also in the mix are sure to be Hendrick Motorsports stars and . The two have posted four top-15 results at restrictor-plate races in 2003. Gordon, along with and , lead all active drivers with four wins at the 2.5-mile oval. Still, the question on every driver, crew chief and team owner's mind is - "Can anyone stop the DEI juggernaut?" Busch Winn-Dixie 250 - Daytona International Speedway - Daytona Beach, FL For just the second time since the Busch Series started coming to Daytona in 1988, the teams will drive at the 2.5-mile oval over the Independence Day weekend. In last year's inaugural event, "Front Row" won the pole and the race in dominating style. The No.87 Chevrolet led 78 of 100 laps en route to a relatively easy trip to Victory Lane. Nemechek has earned a Busch record five poles at DIS along with two wins. ., who won the Busch opener at Daytona in February, will also be on the track for this event. Expect the two Winston Cup regulars to once again battle for the victory. Meanwhile, the Busch Series championship is looking like a four-horse race between , , Jr. and . Green has been the most consistent with 12 top-10s in 17 races, but the second-year driver Riggs has been the hottest in the series over the last few weeks. The No.10 ppc Racing Ford driver has earned four top-seven results in the last five events, including a victory at Nashville. The veteran Hornaday Jr. will be making his 100th Busch Series start and a win could move him into a much stronger position heading down the stretch. "Racing at Daytona is all about the car," said Hornaday Jr. "The driver just has to make the right decision in the draft and hang on. The real heroes are the guys in the (fabrication) shop and the engine guys. Anytime you show up at Daytona with a Chevrolet prepared by Richard Childress Racing, you have a shot at winning the pole and the race." Craftsman O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, KS The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitors invade the Kansas Speedway this weekend and the track should be particularly good for one of the top contending teams - Ultra Motorsports. The two Ultra drivers, and finished fourth and fifth last year after Leffler had won the pole. Leffler also won the inaugural Winston Cup pole at the Kansas Speedway in 2001. Leffler's No.2 Dodge could easily have been victorious last year. He was locked in an epic battle with Rick Crawford until the latter's engine blew - leaving oil on Leffler's windshield and tires. Somehow, Leffler hung on and managed to avoid the walls. "I could not see anything but oil, and the truck got really loose and I almost crashed," said Leffler afterwards. "My spotter helped me get around the racetrack and we were able to salvage a good finish. It was an exciting way to end a race." Musgrave, driver of the No.1 Dodge, has begun to dominate this year's truck series. Over the last eight weeks, he has garnered six top-fives including wins at Charlotte and Memphis. The good news for Musgrave is that he has moved to within 30 points of leader . The bad news is that there are still three other drivers between Musgrave and the leader. Bobby Hamilton and Crawford are one point behind Gaughan and Travis Kvapil is just 11 points back. In the eight year history of the series, the closest the top-five have finished was last year when David Starr finished fifth, 115 points behind winner . With a total of six drivers within 73 points of the lead, this year's championship race is setting up as the best in Craftsman history. IndyCar Kansas Indy 300 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, KS Despite not having won since the second race of the season, Andretti/Green Racing driver Tony Kanaan continues to lead the championship. The Brazilian has done it through consistently solid efforts - six top-fives in seven events. However, after finishing fifth last week at Richmond, his lead is down to just 27 points over the hottest driver in the series - Scott Dixon. The New Zealand native has won back-to-back races and a total of three in the seven races since jumping from the CART series. "We've been on quite a roll over the last few races," said Dixon. "Team Target has given me great cars, so itâ¿¿s made my job a lot easier. Our team have been focused, and things have come together for us. We had a really good test in Kansas two weeks ago, so I'm excited about coming there to race. It's a great facility." After a slow start, based primarily due to an underpowered engine, two-time defending champion Sam Hornish Jr. has begun to make some noise. Over the past two races, the No.1 Pennzoil Chevrolet has finished fifth and fourth - his two best results of the season. Had it not been for a pit road mishap with Felipe Giaffone in Richmond, Hornish Jr. would have been battling for the win with Dixon. As it was, Hornish fell all the way to 14th and charged back through the field - on a track that most drivers found very difficult to pass. "Being a 1.5-mile track, it tends to be more of a horsepower track," said Hornish, which this year would usually indicate a tough time for the Panther Racing team. "But it is flatter than most of the 1.5-mile configurations. This Panther team doesn't ever quit. We're looking for a top-five finish." However, the long-term future for this championship team is up in the air. Rumors continue as to what Hornish Jr. will do at the end of the year when his contract is up. His options would seem to be endless. The team has said that they want him to return and there are very few other teams in the series that wouldn't want the two-time champion. In addition, there has been talk of him continuing with Pennzoil, but taking his vast driving skills to the Winston Cup series and in particular Dale Earnhardt Inc. The Hornish Jr. soap opera will most likely continue until August when the 24-year-old has said he will make a decision. CART Cleveland Grand Prix - Burke Lakefront Airport - Cleveland, OH I have always loved watching the Champ Car race at Burke Lakefront Airport. It provides for great road course action with a rare fan-friendly ability to see the entire "track." With that said, one can't help but wonder why CART officials would run the race at the same time that Winston Cup always runs their summer classic under the lights at Daytona. Even if it is a great race, a classic, will anyone be watching? For anyone watching the race in person, (it won't be shown live on television in America), it should be an exciting race. Midway through the season, the championship has become a three-way battle between points leader Paul Tracy (99), Bruno Junqueira (95) and Michel Jourdain Jr. (91). FORMULA ONE French Grand Prix - Circuit de Nevers - Magny-Cours, France It was at this race last summer that Michael Schumacher clinched his fifth Formula One championship. While Ferrari has again dominated this season, it is not nearly as complete as last year when the team won 15 of 17 races. After a slow start, Schumacher has once again regained his championship form (four wins in the last six races), but leads the title chase by just seven points over McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen. One year ago at the French Grand Prix, Raikkonen announced his intention to become a major player in the championship. The 23-year-old appeared to be on the way to his first F1 victory when he hit a patch of oil on the track and slid off course with just five laps remaining. Though Schumacher took advantage of the opening and charged to the victory, the young driver had shown that he had what it takes to compete at the champion's level. In 2003, Raikkonen has taken his game up another notch, competing with Schumacher every week and has six podium finishes to show for his efforts, including his first win at Malaysia. Meanwhile, the Williams/BMW team of Ralf Schumacher and Juan Montoya has come on strong in the last three races, winning two and posting six top-four results. The 2.741-mile Circuit de Nevers course is another horsepower track which bodes well for the Williams pair. "The new layout (the course has been altered in the Chateau d'Eau corner) will see the engine at full throttle for 65-percent of the lap, and average engine speeds will be higher," said Renault engineer Remi Taffin. When the drivers see the green flag drop to begin the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours, the Renault F1 team should be extra motivated. "Magny-Cours is of course the French-based team's home race, and this therefore gives us added impetus to perform well," said Pat Symonds, Renault's Engineering Director. The team has already performed better than anyone had expected going into the season. Renault has now joined Ferrari, Williams and McLaren at the top of the charts week in and week out.

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