Racing Preview: Martinsville, St. Pete, and NHRA Action

Adam AmickSenior Writer IMarch 31, 2007
Spring is in the air, and America's major racing series are heating up.  Here, the Bleacher Report's Adam Amick saves you from playing an April fool with a preview of this weekend's fast track action.
NASCAR — Cup and Truck at Martinsville
The Nextel Cup Series is set to run its second race in the "Car Of Tomorrow" (or today, as it were) with the Goody's Cool Orange 500 on the flat half-mile at Martinsville, Virginia.
Kyle Busch held off Jeff Burton to win on Bristol's high banks last Sunday, and his Hendrick teammates have ruled Martinsville for the past several years.
The track features two long straightaways followed by hard 180-degree turns. Rhythm is paramount—as are brakes strong enough to withstand 500 laps of punishment.
This is the week that NASCAR starts determining automatic qualifiers by owner points earned in 2007, and some surprises (most notably Scott Riggs) find themselves outside the top-35. Teams outside the exemption window will have to qualify well to earn starting spots in Sunday's race—an especially critical task for the Toyotas.
Their best hope has been Dave Blaney, but he's failed to follow up on strong qualifying performances. Dale Jarrett saved one of his two remaining provisional starts last week by qualifying on speed—only to be taken out early by Matt Kenseth. Michael Waltrip Racing is desperate to make the show, as Waltrip's NAPA Camry hasn't seen action since Daytona, and David Reutimann has failed to qualify in recent weeks.
Look for the Hendrick cars of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson to be up front most of the day. Tony Stewart has had success in Virginia, and was on the pole for the Goody's last spring. He was also the class of the field last week until a broken fuel pump cable took him out of contention.
Kurt Busch is the race's defending champion, but the Penske team's COT program struggled mightily last week. Both Busch and Stewart will be looking for redemption Sunday.

The Goody's Cool Orange 500 will air live on FOX Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Eastern. SPEED Channel will cover practice and qualifying on Saturday.

After a few weeks off, meanwhile, the Craftsman Truck Series drivers will go fender-to-fender around the tight confines of Martinsville on Saturday afternoon. 
Mike Skinner is out front in the points, but defending NCTS Champion Todd Bodine is hot on his heels.  This race will feature even more bumping and banging than the normal truck show, as aerodynamics aren't especially critical at Martinsville. Hard feelings and tempers could flare—making this one very entertaining to watch.
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Kroger 250 will run live Saturday on FOX at 3:00 EDT.
Indy Car and American LeMans — Running the Streets of St. Petersburg
Dan Wheldon picked up where he left off at the end of 2006 with a dominating performance last weekend in the Indy Car season opener at Homestead-Miami. 
This week, the open-wheel series switches from the high-speed oval to the winding street circuit of St. Petersburg, Florida.  Chip Ganassi Racing showed it was ready for the new season with a 1-2 finish last weekend, leaving Penske's cars in the dust.
Andretti-Green Racing, on the other hand, has some work to do after Tony Kanaan finished a team-best fifth last week.  Dario Franchitti was seventh—but Danica Patrick fell out of contention after spinning on her way into the pits, and Marco Andretti retired early to finish last.
The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will air live Sunday at 2:30 p.m. EDT on ESPN.
After a surprising and exciting finish at Sebring, the American LeMans Series will pair up with Indy Car in St. Pete this Saturday.
Audi showed two weeks ago that they're still all but untouchable in the P1 Class—unless mechanical issues arise.  At a mere 2 hours and 45 minutes, the shortened St. Petersburg race should play to their strengths.

Penske's yellow DHL-sponsored Porsche Spyders will look to rebound after Sebring, where newcomer Acura drove away with the P2 Class win.  At one point, in fact, it looked as if Andretti-Green's first outing in ALMS might yield an overall win. 

Corvette Racing is practically begging for some competition in the GT1 Class, as its drivers have taken to racing each other to hone their skills.  The C-6Rs performed flawlessly during the 12-hour grind at Sebring, which they used as a warmup for the 24 Hours of LeMans in June. The lone non-factory Aston Martin car would consider second place a win.

The GT2 Class, in contrast, provided the closest finish in Sebring history two weeks ago.  Ferrari edged out Porsche by a length at the flag—after the lead changed hands twice on the final half-lap.  The GT2 may be the slowest class of cars on the grid at St. Pete, but it's also where you'll find the most exciting action.

The ALMS Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg will be carried on SPEED Channel Saturday at 5 p.m. EDT.
NHRA — O'Reilly Spring Nationals in Houston
The air will be thick with the smell of burning rubber at Houston Raceway Park this weekend as the National Hot Rod Association screams into town for the O'Reilly Spring Nationals. 
Hearts still hang heavy in the NHRA after Eric Medlen's tragic practice crash in Gainesville two weeks ago.  John Force's race team will not participate in Houston as they try to recover from the loss of their fourth driver.

Brandon Bernstein, son of drag racing legend Kenny Bernstein, will look to repeat as Top Fuel champion at HRP. Ron Capps will defend in Funny Car, Mike Edwards is the man to beat in in Pro-Stock, and Angelle Sampey defends her title in the Pro-Stock Bike class.

Qualifying for the NHRA O'Reilly Spring Nationals will air on ESPN 2 Saturday night at 7:00 EDT, with elimination starting Sunday at 4:00 PM on the Deuce.