Sprint Cup Series
Oral-B USA 500 - Atlanta Motor Speedway - Hampton, Georgia
Jeff Gordon will celebrate a career milestone this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway -- his 750th consecutive and overall start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Gordon made his series debut in the Hooters 500 at Atlanta on Nov. 15, 1992. He started 21st and finished 31st after crashing late in the race. That same event marked the 1,185th and final start for Richard Petty. Gordon has not missed a race in the series since then.
"In my first Cup start, I was completely unaware of what I was getting into," Gordon said. "I had a great race car, but I did everything I possibly could do to ruin that opportunity."
In 749 career starts, Gordon has scored 91 victories, which is third on the Cup Series' all-time race winners list, and 76 poles, also third on the all- time list. He is a four-time champion in the series, winning his titles in 1995, '97 and '98 and 2001.
This is Gordon's 23rd year in the series, and all of them have been as driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. The 43-year-old Gordon is the current points leader. He has three wins this season, including victories in two of the last five races (Indianapolis and Michigan).
With two races to go before the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins, Gordon is one of 12 drivers who has clinched a spot in the 16-driver playoff field. His points lead and three victories during the regular season have him presently atop the Chase grid. Pending his attempt to qualify for Atlanta and Richmond, which is next weekend, Gordon will be in the Chase for the 10th time. He failed to qualify for the playoffs only once -- 2005.
At Atlanta, Gordon has recorded five wins, 16 top-five finishes, 26 top-10s and two poles in 40 Cup Series starts. His most recent victory here occurred in September 2011. Gordon has led a total of 1,297 laps at this track, which is the most among active drivers, and he has an average starting position of 12.1 and an average finishing position of 11.8.
"There have been a lot of significant moments that have occurred during my career at Atlanta," he said. "My first Nationwide win, my first Cup start, the 85th win, winning some championships there and this upcoming start."
With this being the first year of NASCAR's knockout-style qualifying format, Gordon has qualified very well in the last several races. He started on the pole at Watkins Glen and Michigan and on the outside pole at Bristol. Gordon has qualified fifth in each of the previous three races at Atlanta.
"What stands out the most to me about Atlanta is that it's going to be really fast for qualifying, but then you're going to slip and slide during the race," Gordon said. "You have to manage wheel spin, and you have to manage tire wear.
"The team has to have a setup that is quick but doesn't abuse the tires, and the driver has to drive it hard but not overdrive it. And you're going to be searching all over the track for the groove that works best for you and your car. It's just a fun, challenging track."
Forty-four teams are on the entry list for Sunday's Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta. Ty Dillon, a rookie in the Nationwide Series this season, is scheduled to make his Sprint Cup debut here, driving the No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing/Circle Sport.
Great Clips 300 - Atlanta Motor Speedway - Hampton, Georgia
Chase Elliott has been looking forward to Saturday night's Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway for quite some time.
Elliott, the 18-year-old son of 1988 NASCAR Cup Series champion Bill Elliott, is a rookie in Nationwide this year. He's also the current points leader.
With 10 races to go, Elliott holds a 13-point advantage over second-place and JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith.
Elliott hails from Dawsonville, Georgia, which is about 85 miles north of this 1.54-mile racetrack.
This will be the first time Elliott competes in a NASCAR national touring series race at Atlanta.
"It's always exciting to race around home, and anytime you can do that, it's definitely one of the places you want to shine," Elliott said. "There's no question this is one of the dates I've been most excited for all season long. Who doesn't want to do well in front of their friends and family? I'm really looking forward to the weekend. This will be big."
Elliott's father won a Cup Series race at Atlanta five times. He clinched his '88 championship with an 11th-place finish in the season-finale here. In 1992, Elliott won the fall race at this track but lost the series title by 10 points to Alan Kulwicki, who finished second and led the most laps.
In 23 Nationwide races this season, Elliott has scored three wins (tied for series-most), 10 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s. Two of his victories have occurred on 1.5-mile tracks (Texas and Chicago).
Forty teams are on the entry list for the Great Clips 300. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and David Ragan are those Sprint Cup Series regulars scheduled to compete in this race. Harvick won this event one year ago.
Camping World Truck Series
Chevrolet Silverado 250 - Canadian Tire Motorsport Park - Bowmanville, Canada
After a slow start to the season, Darrell Wallace Jr. is moving up in the Camping World Truck Series point standings.
With two wins and a pair of second-place finishes, Wallace has scored 318 points in the last eight races, which is more than any other driver in the series. Wallace, the driver of the No. 54 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports, has climbed from 11th to fifth in points since the May 30 race at Dover.
The series will run its 14th race of the season on Sunday at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. This will be the second time the series competes in Canada. One year ago, Chase Elliott won the inaugural truck race at this 2.459-mile, 10-turn road course. Wallace finished fourth.
"We definitely have momentum on our side following some strong runs the last few weeks in our No. 54 Toyota Tundra," Wallace said. "I'm pumped to get back to Canada, turn left and right, and hopefully leave with some hardware to add to this year's finishes."
Erik Jones, who holds the record as the youngest driver to win a truck race and is Wallace's teammate, is scheduled to drive the No. 51 Toyota, which is mostly occupied by Kyle Busch. Jones was 17 years, five months and nine days old when he won his first race in the series last November at Phoenix.
This will be Jones' first NASCAR national touring series start on a road course.
"I've been looking forward to making my first start on a road course for a long time, and now that I'm finally getting the chance, I think it is going to be pretty fun," Jones said. "It's always tough going into a new situation in a race car, but I attended the Ron Fellows school, and that helped out a lot."
Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is co-owned by Fellows, who is no stranger to NASCAR racing. He has won six times in NASCAR national series competition, including twice in trucks (both at Watkins Glen).
Jones has six starts in trucks this season. He won the July 11 race at Iowa.
Johnny Sauter currently holds an eight-point lead over second-place and ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton, who is the defending series champion.
Ryan Blaney trails Sauter by 24 points. Ron Hornaday Jr. is 27 points behind, and Wallace is 33 in back of the leader.
Twenty-nine teams are on the entry list for the Chevrolet Silverado 250.
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES
MAVTV 500 - Auto Club Speedway - Fontana, California
The 2014 IndyCar Series season concludes on Saturday night at the two-mile Auto Club Speedway, as Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves are set to battle for the championship.
Simon Pagenaud from Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports is the only other driver who remains eligible for the title heading into the season-finale, but Pagenaud is a very long shot.
Power currently holds a 50-point lead over Castroneves, while Pagenaud trails by 81 points. Castroneves earned a bonus point for winning Friday' qualifying at Fontana. Power qualified 21st, and Pagenaud placed 13th.
This 500-mile race is the third an final leg in IndyCar's "Triple Crown" this season, and it awards double points. A driver could earn a total of 104 points, if he were to qualify on pole, lead the most laps and win the race.
If Power finishes sixth or better in this event, he will claim his first IndyCar championship, regardless of where Castroneves or Pagenaud finishes. Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, and Pagenaud are seeking their first titles in the series as well.
Power won last year's season-finale at Fontana. It was just the second time in his IndyCar career that he had won on an oval. His third and most recent victory on an oval took place earlier this month at The Milwaukee Mile.
"It was definitely a great finish to last year," Power said of his 2013 win at Fontana. "Now, it's a different field, and actually things just get tougher and tougher all the time in this series. Winning last year definitely doesn't make me feel comfortable going in. I know that it's going to take a lot of hard work and a very good race to win the championship, so I'm just focusing on the things I can control."
Power finished second in the IndyCar championship in three consecutive seasons (2010-12). He placed fourth in points last year.
In 2010 and '12, Power entered the season-finale as the points leader. Four years ago, he came to Homestead-Miami Speedway with an 11-point advantage over Dario Franchitti, but Power ended up finishing 25th there after he made contact with the wall and sustained heavy damage to his right-rear suspension late in the race. Franchitti's eighth-place finish allowed him to clinch the title by just five points.
When the series held its season-ending race in Southern California for the first time two years ago, Power entered it with a 17-point lead over Ryan Hunter-Reay. Power crashed early in the event and wound up finishing 24th. Hunter-Reay claimed the championship by only a three-point margin following his fourth-place run.
Power is hoping he won't encounter any mishaps in this race.
"To me, it's just aim for a top-five finish, absolutely," he said. "The mindset is just to really work hard on getting the car right. Obviously, the rest you can't control. So just really focusing on the job that I have to do."
Castroneves finished second to champion Scott Dixon in IndyCar points last year. Dixon came to Fontana with a 25-point lead over Castroneves.
A fifth-place finish for Dixon coupled with Castroneves' sixth-place run allowed Dixon to clinch the title by 27 points.
So what will it take for Castroneves to beat Power for the championship?
"Good question. What is it going to take?," Castroneves wondered. "It's going to take to win a race and hopefully things go in that direction. We're working hard together, and come up with a little bit of luck too. It's not only in my control.
"But the good news is we have this thing pretty close to Team Penske, and I believe our goals will be accomplished, and that's what we're looking for. But yes, I'm going to do everything I can to bring that side, and we've just got to keep ourselves in the hunt and doing all we did last year, push as much as we can so that if it happens, it happens."
Pagenaud will obviously need a lot of luck to win the title.
"It's pretty simple, I just have to go into weekend very focused on trying to be competitive and go into the race thinking to win the race," Pagenaud said. "That's the only way I could have a chance to win the championship. I don't have any pressure. We've done really well this season with this Schmidt Peterson Motorsport team and now we're in a really good position. It's nice to come to the last race with a chance to fight for the championship."
Twenty-two teams are on the entry list for the MAVTV 500.