What's happening in motor sports heading into this weekend:
1. Six-time AMA Superbike champion Mat Mladin brings his unbeaten streak in 2008 to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana this weekend as the series arrives for its third event of the season.
The Australian will battle his Suzuki teammate, reigning champion Ben Spies, Yamaha's Jason DiSalvo and Honda's Neil Hodgson. They'll race on a 2.3-mile, 21-turn course that mostly winds through the infield of the two-mile oval speedway. They also use the track's front straightaway, reaching speeds exceeding 165 mph. Mladin and Spies swept all 19 races last year, but Spies beat his teammate by one point to win the title.
Qualifying for the AMA Suzuki Superbike Challenge is today and Saturday morning, followed by two races -- one Saturday afternoon, the second Sunday -- to determine the event's overall winner. There also will be races in the AMA's support series.
2. Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart is exploring whether to eventually leave Joe Gibbs Racing, perhaps before his contract expires at the end of next year. "We've got multiple offers on the table right now, and there's a couple in particular that really have caught our interest," Stewart said Thursday. "We haven't made a 100% decision yet on what we're going to do, but we're going to look at all the options," he told reporters at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, site of Sunday's Cup race. Gibbs President J.D. Gibbs issued a statement saying, "Tony is currently here through 2009, and from a Joe Gibbs Racing standpoint, we hope he drives for us longer than that and retires here."
3 . Funny car legend John Force will mark his 500th career race this weekend at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga.
The 14-time champion also is closing in on winning his 1,000th elimination round. The Yorba Linda racer is only four wins short, while still rebounding from serious injuries suffered in a crash last September.
His daughter Ashley is leading the funny car points after runner-up finishes in the previous two events. "One thousand, that's something," John Force said. "I'd like to do that in front of my children to show them the old man has still got it, at least for a while."
4. Danica Patrick and the reunified IndyCar Series return to Kansas (Kan.) Speedway on Sunday for the last race before the series prepares for the Indianapolis 500 on May 25.
After becoming the first woman to win an IndyCar race last week, Patrick said she's looking forward to attempting back-to-back victories. "I don't think any pressure is going to compare to what it was like to get a [first] win in," she said.
Patrick was in tears after taking the checkered flag in Japan, and she attributed it to "being so glad and so relieved that it happened finally."
5. In local racing, the Championship Off Road Racing series, which features off-road trucks racing in a closed-course arena, opens its season Saturday and Sunday at the Fairplex in Pomona.
Late-model stock cars head multi-race programs at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale and the Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino on Saturday night, while Ventura Raceway features sprint cars.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP:
When: Saturday, qualifying (Speed, 8:30 a.m.); Sunday, race (Ch. 11, 11 a.m.).
Where: Talladega Superspeedway (tri-oval, 2.66 miles, 33 degrees banking in turns).
Distance: 500 miles, 188 laps.
When: Today, qualifying (Speed, 2 p.m.); Saturday, race (Ch. 7, noon).
Where: Talladega, Ala.
Distance: 311.22 miles, 117 laps.
NASCAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCKS:
O'Reilly Auto Parts 250
When: Saturday, qualifying, 10:40 a.m.; race (Speed, 3 p.m.).
Where: Kansas City, Kan.
Distance: 250.5 miles, 167 laps.
Spanish Grand Prix
When: Saturday, qualifying (Speed, 5 a.m.); Sunday, race (Speed, 4:30 a.m.).
Distance: 193.842 miles, 66 laps.
INDY RACING LEAGUE:
RoadRunner Turbo 300
When: Saturday, qualifying, 12:10 p.m.; Sunday, race (ESPN2, 2 p.m.).
Where: Kansas City, Kan.
Distance: 300 miles, 200 laps.
NHRA: Summit Racing
Equipment Southern Nationals
When: Today, qualifying, 11 a.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 8:30 a.m. (ESPN, 3 p.m., tape); Sunday, eliminations, 8 a.m. (ESPN2, 4 p.m., tape).
Where: Commerce, Ga.
All times Pacific
STAT OF THE WEEK
The record qualifying lap at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, site of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race, was set by Bill Elliott, above, in 1987 at 212.809 mph.
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
Kimi Raikkonen, of Ferrari, ahead of Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix:
'It could have been better at the start of the season, but we are leading in the points so I need to be happy.'
Have a motor sports question for Jim? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org