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This week in motor racing

Gearing Up

June 27, 2008|Jim Peltz | Times Staff Writer

What's happening in motor sports entering this weekend:

1. Speculation is reaching a fever pitch over which NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers might change teams next year.

The rumors -- none confirmed so far -- were widespread at Sonoma last weekend and picked up momentum as the series headed to Loudon, N.H., for its race Sunday.

Here's a sampling: Tony Stewart will buy out of his contract at Joe Gibbs Racing and become a co-owner/driver of another team. Hotshot teenager Joey Logano will then move into Stewart's No. 20 Toyota at Gibbs -- maybe.

Casey Mears, meanwhile, is rumored to be out of the No. 5 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports and could join Richard Childress Racing, which plans to add a fourth car in 2009.

That opens the door for veteran Mark Martin -- who is sharing the No. 8 Chevy with youngster Aric Amirola at Dale Earnhardt Inc. this year -- to take over the No. 5 car, or to reprise his mentor role at Hendrick by sharing the car with another young driver, perhaps Brad Keselowski.

Speculation also has Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Reed Sorenson and David Reutimann possibly leaving their teams.

Then again, none of this could happen.

2. Matt Kenseth hopes to extend his sparkling rebound at the 1.1-mile New Hampshire oval to help secure a berth in the series' 12-driver Chase for the Cup championship playoff.

Two months ago, the 2003 title winner appeared in grave danger of missing the Chase for the first time since it was implemented in 2004. He was 22nd in the standings, 204 points behind the Chase cutoff of 12th place. But over the next six races, the Ford driver finished in the top 10 each time and gained 934 points -- more than any driver -- and is now 12th in the standings.

"You race hard and try to be smart and do the right things and hopefully get some good finishes and get back in it," Kenseth said.

3. The IndyCar Series races Saturday night on its shortest track of the season, the 0.75-mile Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.

"I have never been in anything this fast on a track this small," said Ryan Hunter-Reay, making his first appearance at Richmond for Rahal Letterman Racing.

The series started racing at Richmond in 2001, and Dan Wheldon -- last week's winner in Iowa -- has the most top-10 finishes with five, including a victory in 2004.

4. It appears Formula One will not make a U.S. stop for a second year in a row. The series released its provisional schedule for 2009 and a U.S. Grand Prix was not listed despite speculation that the series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway might reunite for the race.

The famed track held the race from 2000 through 2007, but then parted ways with Formula One when the two sides could not agree to terms on a new contract.

"We want to stress it's just a provisional schedule," speedway spokesman Ron Green said. "We continue to be interested in the return of the United States Grand Prix. Discussions will continue."

5. In local racing Saturday night, Toyota Speedway at Irwindale features late-model stock cars and a demolition derby, with fans age 15 and younger admitted free, while late-models and sprint cars head the program at Perris Auto Speedway.

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STAT OF THE WEEK

Jeff Burton, above, holds the record for most wins -- four -- at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, site of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

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LIFE IN THE FAST LANE

Brandon Bernstein, remembering fellow driver Scott Kalitta, killed last weekend in a crash at the NHRA drag races in Englishtown, N.J.:

'We will miss him, but he will remain in our hearts.'

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Have a motor sports question for Jim? E-mail him at james.peltz@latimes.com

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