This Week in Auto Racing September 12 - September 15

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by Steve Schwarz, Auto Racing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It is a reversal of fortune for NASCAR Winston Cup racing and the Formula One series. Most recently it has been the Winston Cup drivers with a tight championship battle and Michael Schumacher running away with the title. But in 2003, has blown the other Winston Cup drivers out of the water with his consistency and in F1 they are preparing for their most exciting battle in years.


Winston Cup

Sylvania 300 - New Hampshire International Speedway - Loudon, NH

leads the Winston Cup championship by a whopping 418 points over his nearest rival, . Since the modern era of Winston Cup racing began in 1972, only five times (by three drivers) has a championship been won by more than Kenseth's current margin.

Dale Earnhardt won the 1994 title by 444 points and the 1987 championship by 489 points. Cale Yarborough took the 1977 Winston Cup title by 474 points. And of course no talk of championships or any record could take place without "The King" Richard Petty. Petty won the 1974 title by 567 points and holds the all- time record margin of 722 points set in 1975. In that year "The King" won 13 times.

Though Kenseth cannot compete with Petty's numbers, the No.17 Roush Racing driver has put on a show none the less. Kenseth has posted a series-high 20 top-10 results in 26 events, far outdistancing .'s second- best 15 top-10s.

And coming down the stretch, the other drivers should not expect Kenseth to give them any help. Last year, Kenseth earned six top-10s in the final 10 events including a win at the Checker Auto Parts 500 in Phoenix. He has one of the best pit crews headed by crew chief Robbie Reiser and experienced teammates like , and to fall back on for support.

In fact, barring a serious injury, there seems to be no way for anyone to stop the Kenseth juggernaut from cruising to the Winston Cup championship.

There is however, a great battle growing for the second spot behind Kenseth. While Earnhardt Jr. is leading the pack, at least six other drivers have designs for the runner-up slot.

, the hottest driver over the last half dozen races, is just 23 points behind "Junior." Also looking for a big finish are (-83), (-176), (-191), (-238) and Busch (-241).

In last year's fall race at NHIS, Newman won a rain-shorten affair over Busch. Newman is coming off a stunning victory at Richmond - the first short track win of his career. The No.12 Alltel Dodge has put together an amazing season considering his awful start. Through the first 11 races of the season, Newman sat 27th in the standings, with four DNFs, including two wild high-speed crashes at Daytona and Talladega.

Over the last 15 events, Newman has earned nine top-fives, including victories at Dover, Chicagoland, Pocono, Michigan and Richmond. Should he pull out a second-place finish to Kenseth in the championship, you would certainly have to consider him a strong choice for "driver of the year."


New Hampshire 200 - New Hampshire International Speedway - Loudon, NH

With eight races remaining in the 2003 season, there are still six drivers less than 200 points behind leader . While the No.62 Dodge driver leads the way with four wins and 14 top-10s, Travis Kvapil remains right on his rear bumper.

"Naturally, we would love to have a really big lead, but our plan is to just keep chipping away at it and try our best to bring home the championship for Dodge," said Gaughan.

Kvapil, who is driving last year's No.16 IWX championship winning truck, is just five points back (2,631-2,626). However, these two young drivers, are not alone. Veterans (-42), (-114) and Rick Crawford (-143) could all theoretically be leading the championship after the next race if everything broke just right.

Also still dreaming of sitting at the front table for the Craftsman awards banquet are Roush Racing's Jon Wood and former Winston Cup regular Bobby Hamilton.

In July 2002, Terry Cook took the checkered flag by .189 seconds over Setzer.


Italian Grand Prix - Autodromo Nationale di Monza - Monza, Italy

While series points leader Michael Schumacher is fighting Juan Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen for the championship on the track, his Ferrari team has attacked the other teams off the track as well.

After finishing a lap behind Renault's Fernando Alonso at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Ferrari protested that the Michelin tires used by the Renault, McLaren and Williams/BMW teams were illegal.

Ferrari complained that by the end of the race, the Michelin tires no longer conformed to the rules. The FIA, Formula One's governing body, has ruled that a post-race inspection will now take place to check conformity.

The tires in question had passed a pre-race inspection, but a post-race inspection showed that the tires were no longer within specs.

Owner Frank Williams and Patrick Head of Williams/BMW and McLaren chairman Ron Dennis met with FIA officials on Monday.

"Potentially, this whole affair is throwing the world championship out of the window for both of us," said Williams managing director Martin Whitmarsh. "Put simply, we can either use the existing tires and risk not conforming with these revised rule interpretations or we can use new tires and still risk being illegal despite a loss of performance."

"I find this situation comical,"said Alonso. "When Schumacher, Ferrari and Bridgestone win everything no one complains about their tires. Now that Michael and Ferrari are losing, it's a drama."

Its to bad, too, because the on-track racing is the best in years. In 2003, there have been eight different drivers to win a race, the most since 1985. No longer is it just an exercise for all but three teams - Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. This year Renault has become a force behind the aggressive driving of Spain's first F1 winner - Alonso. And Jordan's Giancarlo Fisichella has taken to the top step of the podium. It marked Fisichella's first career F1 victory and just the fourth for Team Jordan in 200 starts.

Still the 2003 championship will most likely come from either five-time F1 champion Schumacher, Montoya or Raikkonen. With three races remaining and just two points separating the leaders, it should be one wild stretch run.

The drama begins this week at Monza, Italy.

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