This Week in Auto Racing June 27 - June 29

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=== This Week in Auto Racing June 27 - June 29 === by Steve Schwarz, Auto Racing Editor Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - While Winston Cup drivers get a rare weekend off (their last one before a 20-race stretch through the end of the season), tight championship races in the Formula One and IndyCar Series' will keep racing fans occupied. FORMULA ONE European Grand Prix - Nurburgring - Nurburg, Germany All is right and normal in the world again - Ferrari's Michael Schumacher has returned to the top spot of the Formula One drivers championship. During the first seven races of 2003, the five-time champion was looking up at points leader Kimi Raikkonen. Finally, after posting his fourth win of the season at the Canadian Grand Prix, Schumacher assumed the points lead over his McLaren rival. Since introducing the 2003 version Ferrari at the Spanish Grand Prix, the German has earned three victories in four events, failing only at Monaco, where he finished third. Raikkonen, who trails the defending champion by just three points (54-51), has finished on the podium in six of the eight races this season. The only two times he failed to finish in the top-three, he started at the back of the field due to poor qualifying efforts. The two drivers, Schumacher and Raikkonen, have opened up a sizable lead over the rest of the field and seem to have made the championship into a two-car race. Five other drivers (Fernando Alonso, Ralf Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Juan Montoya and David Coulthard) still have a chance to get back into the title chase, but seem to be lacking that something (either confidence, momentum or horsepower) in their attempts to win the championship. In last year's race at the Nurburgring, Barrichello led all 60 laps en route to a 0.294-second victory over Michael Schumacher. Barrichello, who started fourth on the grid, passed his teammate and both Williams/BMW drivers (Ralf Schumacher and pole winner Montoya) during the first lap. Michael Schumacher stayed close to the leader throughout the race until a spin on lap 43 left him more than 10 seconds behind. The champion made up most of the ground over the final laps, but never attempted a pass on Barrichello. That may have been as a result of the controversy at last year's Austrian Grand Prix, when "team orders" resulted in Barrichello giving up a sure victory for his teammate. Expect five-time champion Schumacher and Ferrari to expand their lead and enjoy another trip to the top of the podium. IndyCar SunTrust Indy Challenge - Richmond International Raceway - Richmond, VA The SunTrust Indy Challenge, run on the shortest track in the IndyCar Series, will for the second consecutive year be conducted at night. "Richmond is like flying fighter planes in a gym," veteran Eddie Cheever Jr. once said. "You never get to rest, to back off or to sweep a mistake under the carpet. If you make a mistake at this place, you will spin. End of story." "I think it's going to be a tough racetrack," said points leader Tony Kanaan. "It's very demanding, very physical. I would say that Richmond will be the most difficult race of the year." In six races thus far in 2003, there have been five different winners, only Scott Dixon is a multiple winner. Still, Kanaan has fashioned his 49-point lead by posting five top-five finishes in the six events to date. In fact, the No.11 Andretti Green Racing driver has led at least one lap in every race this season - the only driver to do so. In the battle for second place in the championship, three drivers (Gil de Ferran, Helio Castroneves and Al Unser Jr.) are within one point of Dixon's total. In last year's race, two-time defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr. passed de Ferran with two laps remaining to take the checkered flag. Hornish Jr. who posted his best finish of the season last week at the Pikes Peak International Raceway when he finished fifth, has suffered from the Chevrolet engine's lack of horsepower as compared to Honda and Toyota. In fact, Chevrolet has been seeking assistance to help the Chevrolet-powered teams in the field. Hornish Jr. and Panther Racing were scheduled to test Wednesday at the Chicagoland Speedway with a Chevrolet engine built by Cosworth - a company with a long successful history in both CART and Formula One. Hopefully, they will be able to increase the horsepower in the Chevrolet powerplant and make Hornish Jr. and the other Chevrolet-powered teams more competitive. NASCAR Busch GNC Live Well 250 - Milwaukee Mile - West Allis, WI After finishing a strong second two week's ago at Kentucky, is seeking to continue his charge towards the championship. His runner-up finish helped him gain 51 points on leader . "I really enjoy running at Milwaukee," said Keller. "It reminds me of Greenville-Pickens and some of the other tracks I ran on early in my career. It is an extremely flat, slick and fast track. By racing in Milwaukee in the heat of the summer, the track is usually extremely slick and fun to race on." The No.57 Ford driver has had success at the historic one-mile oval. Keller has three top-five and five top-10 finishes in 10 starts, including a second place last year. "Last year it was one of the many battles to the end I had with ," said Keller. "Steve (Addington) has a great handle on this type of track and can usually set up the car to find grip that no one else does. I expect to see and be part of the great racing that Milwaukee always showcases." Despite a 30th-place finish at Kentucky, has been the hottest driver in the series over the past seven weeks. The No.10 Ford driver has five top-three finishes over that period, including wins at Gateway and Nashville. Green, meanwhile, has taken over the championship lead through consistency. The No.37 Brewco Motorsports driver has earned 11 top-10 finishes in 16 races and has been running at the finish in every event - finishing on the lead lap in all but four races. Craftsman GNC Live Well 200 - Milwaukee Mile - West Allis, WI Winston Cup veteran Bobby Hamilton leads the Craftsman Truck Series championship for the eighth straight week. He has fashioned an 84-point lead by posting eight top-10 finishes and one win. His consistently high performance level has allowed him to keep "young guns" like Travis Kvapil (second in the championship) and (fourth) at bay. However, Kvapil and Gaughan are quickly gaining confidence in their teams and their own abilities. Kvapil has four straight top-five results including a second place last week and Gaughan is still basking in the glow of his third straight win at the Texas Motor Speedway. They have also has some success at the Milwaukee Mile - Gaughan finished fourth last year and Kvapil 10th. Two other "young gun" who are a threat to win are Roush Racing teammates Jon Wood (three straight top-fives) and rookie (two consecutive top- fives). The Milwaukee Mile, one of the country's oldest racing facilities, has hosted a truck race every year since the series began in 1995. Still, there has never been a repeat winner, which would seem to rule out defending champion Terry Cook (2002) and last week's Memphis winner (2001). Cook, however, won last year's race from the pole in a dominating display, leading a race-high 131 of 203 laps. "It was pretty special," said Cook, who made his first career start at Milwaukee in 1996. "We won every practice session, we won qualifying, we led the most laps, we won the race. We couldn't have done much more." Don't be shocked if you see Cook back in Victory Lane this weekend.

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