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This Week in Auto Racing May 24 - 25

<p>Indianapolis 500 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Indianapolis, Indiana</p>

Indianapolis 500 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Indianapolis, Indiana

The 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 takes place on Sunday, and it could very well be as thrilling as last year's race, which featured a record 64 lead changes among 14 drivers and moved at a blistering pace of 187.433 mph.

Who's the favorite to win this year's Indy 500? That's a good guess. The field is wide open.

Six drivers in the 33-car field have won the prestigious 500-mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the past -- Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Buddy Lazier, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve.

In 2000, Montoya became the first driver in 34 years to win the Indy 500 in his first career start, but Montoya has not competed in this event since. Villeneuve has not raced in the Indy 500 since he won it in 1995. Lazier, who took the checkered flag at Indy in 1996, qualified 33rd for this year's race and is a very long shot to win it.

Castroneves, who is Montoya's teammate at Team Penske, is attempting to win his fourth Indy 500, which would place him in a tie with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears for most victories in this event. Castroneves is the last driver to win it from the pole position in 2009. He will start on the inside of row 2 in this race.

Castroneves knows how competitive the Indy 500 has been lately, especially the last couple of years, with record lead changes in it.

"Obviously, everybody is going for it," Castroneves said. "It's tough going out there every time, running that low downforce the way we are. But that's why it's Indianapolis. It's two kind of races, the Indy 500 and this race."

Castroneves became the first driver to win the Indy 500 consecutively in his first two starts (2001-02).

Dixon, the defending IndyCar Series champion, won the Indy 500 in 2008. He will start on row 4, in between Montoya and Kurt Busch, who is attempting to become the first driver to do the Indy 500/Coca-Cola 600 double in a decade.

One year ago, Kanaan won the Indy 500 for the first time in his 12th attempt. Kanaan, who drove the No. 11 car for KV Racing Technology last season, took the lead from Ryan Hunter-Reay following a restart with three laps to go. He pulled ahead of Hunter-Reay just prior to the caution flag being displayed for an accident involving Dario Franchitti in turn 1. The race ended under caution.

Kanaan is now behind the wheel of the No. 10 car for Chip Ganassi Racing. He took over driving duties of that car after Franchitti, a three-time Indy 500 winner and four-time IndyCar champion, announced in November his retirement following a near-fatal crash during an event on October 6 in Houston.

It's quite possible that we might see a different name and face etched into the famed Borg-Warner Trophy this year.

Marco Andretti is usually high on the list of favorites to win the Indy 500, but the 27-year-old son of team owner Michael Andretti and grandson of racing legend Mario Andretti has yet to take the checkered flag for this race. He will start from the outside of row 2.

Will Power, who is the current points leader, has struggled at Indy in the past, finishing no better than 14th in the last three races here. Just two of Power's 22 career victories in IndyCar have come at oval tracks. He won the most recent race held at an oval last October -- the season-finale in Fontana, California. The Team Penske driver qualified on the outside of row 1 for the Indy 500.

"It's definitely a good place to start," Power said. "The further up you are, the better you are. The further inside you are, the better you are. It's a very long race and very interesting style of racing, different to any other racing we have all year with the way the draft works. Just have to make sure we run well in traffic and put ourselves in a position at the end of Sunday to win that thing."

Power will share the front starting row with Ed Carpenter, who won the pole with a four-lap average speed of 231.067 mph, and James Hinchcliffe, who qualified just a tick behind Carpenter at 230.839 mph.

Six drivers are scheduled to make their first Indy 500 starts -- Mikhail Aleshin, Busch, James Davison, Jack Hawksworth, Carlos Huertas and Sage Karam.

This will be Busch's debut in the IndyCar Series as well. He is driving a fifth entry for Andretti Autosport in this race. Busch hopes to complete all 1,100 miles of racing on Sunday -- 500 miles at Indy and then 600 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Tony Stewart, his teammate and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, is the only driver who has accomplished that feat.

"Each day in the Indy car, I'm a student, and I'm learning," Busch said. "The way to approach this is to have fun. I have zero Indy car experience, and I'm trying to elevate my game over there to be competitive. It's difficult. Those [IndyCar Series] guys are good at what they do."

During Monday's practice session for the Indy 500, Busch crashed hard into the wall after he lost control exiting turn 2 while running in a group of cars.

"I'm glad that I experienced it," Busch said of the accident, which occurred roughly 95 minutes into the practice session. "I might sound stupid by saying that I'm glad I wrecked it at 220 mph, but if I didn't put myself in that position, I would have done that on Sunday, possibly 50 laps into the race.

"That's how you have to advance through life is learn from your mistakes. It's a mistake that I wholeheartedly put myself in, and it's because I just started to feel comfortable. I just let my guard down a little bit. And that IndyCar jumped up and bit me."

Busch will drive Marco Andretti's backup car. Repairs to Busch's primary vehicle could not be completed in time for race day. Per IndyCar rules, he will be able to retain his 12th starting position.

Teams will have one last opportunity to practice and fine tune their cars for the Indy 500 in Friday's "Carb Day."

"One more practice to go on Friday then you have what you have for the race," Kanaan said. "I think we've made some pretty good gains this week with the car, and now I'm 100 percent focused on the job we have to do on Sunday."

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

Coca-Cola 600 - Charlotte Motor Speedway - Concord, North Carolina

Kurt Busch is about to experience a race weekend unlike any other that he's had during his career.

Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion, will try to become just the fourth driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. The green flag for Sunday's 500-mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is scheduled to wave at 12:12 p.m. ET, and the start of the 600-mile event at Charlotte Motor Speedway is set to begin at approximately 6:15 p.m. ET.

There is no rain in the forecast for the Indianapolis and Charlotte areas on Sunday.

On Thursday night, Busch qualified 28th for the Coca-Cola 600. He then headed to Indianapolis to participate in Friday's final practice for the Indy 500 (Carb Day). Busch will return to Charlotte later in the day for Saturday's Sprint Cup practice sessions and then fly back to Indy. He will start 12th in the Indy 500, driving the No. 26 car for Andretti Autosport.

"I'm doing this for a lot of different reasons," Busch said. "I think motorsports can use the shot in the arm, to go you know what, this is a guy who has never been in an Indy car - we want to watch that race, then we want to follow him to Charlotte to see what he can do down there running that full 600 miles."

John Andretti, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon have done the Indy/Charlotte double on the same day in the past. Andretti was the first driver to accomplish the feat in 1994.

Stewart, who is Busch's teammate and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, has done the double twice -- 1999 and 2001. He is the only driver who has completed all 1,100 miles of racing, finishing sixth in the Indy 500 and third in the Coca- Cola 600 in '01.

Gordon attempted the double five times -- 1997, 2000, '02, '03 and '04. When he competed in the Indy 500 ten years ago, the race was stopped after 27 laps due to rain. The lengthy rain delay forced Gordon to miss the rest of the event, as he traveled to Charlotte in time for the start of the race there. Jaques Lazier relieved Gordon at Indy.

Last year, Busch had thoughts of racing in the Indy 500. He passed the rookie orientation for the race, putting into motion the possibility of doing the double, but he eventually chose not to enter it.

Now Busch is ready to not only run in both races but complete all 1,100 miles as well.

"I'm a racer, Tony Stewart is a racer, Robby Gordon is a racer and John Andretti is a racer," he said. "This is a true test of what your commitment level is on being a racer. There are so many practices back and forth, the travel, the logistics. The fun meter is pegged right now. I'm having a blast doing it. You just have to know it comes with a lot of hard work. I encourage others to try it out."

Attempting the double has been a challenge for Busch, but one he has enjoyed. And his fellow Sprint Cup competitors have taken note of it.

"I hope that there is still more to learn and more to experience, and there will be on Sunday," Busch said. "It's still difficult to describe the differences between the two. I've had to keep them very separate.

"Just walking through the garage [at Charlotte], it took 20 minutes for me to go sign in. It's not because of fans and autographs, even though they are there as well. It's the other crew chiefs and the other drivers asking about it, wanting to know the differences and to live some of the experience with me."

Since his announcement of the double in early March, Busch has been working out extensively to improve his upper-body strength. In the days leading up to the Indy 500/Coca-Cola 600, Busch will focus heavily on nutrition.

"It will start [Friday] night with loading up on carbs and almost being at the big fighter weight that you would expect to see a guy with the extra weight, just so that I know that I am going to burn all that off on Sunday," he said.

Busch, who is in his first season as driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, is currently 28th in the point standings. On March 30, Busch won at Martinsville, which virtually guaranteed him a spot in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, but he has finished no better than 23rd in the five races since Martinsville.

Parker Kligerman is on standby to drive the No. 41 car if Busch does not arrive at Charlotte in time for the race. Kligerman will also practice for him if needed. Busch is not expected to be here on time to attend the drivers' meeting, which is scheduled to take place two hours before the 600-mile event. If he does miss the drivers' meeting, he would start the race from the rear of the field.

"We are not expecting [Busch] to be at the drivers meeting," Busch's crew chief, Daniel Knost, said. "If he does miss it because of the IndyCar race, then we'll have to go to the back. That's something we've known and we've accepted. The good thing is he'll be fired up and ready to go. He is typically pretty strong, especially at the beginning of a run. I think he'll be looking to move forward and make up the positions that we give away quickly."

Busch won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2010, leading 252 of 400 laps in that race.

Nationwide Series

History 300 - Charlotte Motor Speedway - Concord, North Carolina

The Nationwide Series runs its 11th race of the season on Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Rookie Chase Elliott holds just a two-point lead over Regan Smith, his teammate at JR Motorsports, and Elliott Sadler. Last Sunday at Iowa, Smith finished third, while Elliott was fourth and Sadler fifth. Sam Hornish Jr., driving a part-time Nationwide schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing this season, won the race.

Elliott has two wins this season -- Texas and Darlington. He has held the points lead for each race since his victory at Texas.

"I definitely know it's early on in the year, and there's so much racing to go, and everybody knows that," Elliott said. "We have to make sure we keep our heads where they need to be, just have to make sure we keep on the right track. We will continue to get better, because that's what our competition is doing right now."

Elliott is the 18-year-old son of Bill Elliott, who was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 earlier this week, along with Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White.

This will be the first time Elliott competes in a NASCAR national touring series race at Charlotte.

Smith has finished no worse than 10th in the first 10 races this season. He won the season-opener at Daytona.

"Things have been going well for our team," Smith said. "I think once we got through those first few races of the season, we've really seen things start coming together. Thanks to a solid run at Iowa, we're still right there in the hunt of the points, which is good considering we haven't run as great as we want to through the first nine races or so."

Smith has seven Nationwide starts at this 1.5-mile racetrack, with his best finish of fifth coming in May 2007. He also has nine Sprint Cup starts and one in the Camping World Truck Series here.

Sadler has scored top-10 finishes in the last six races, including a victory at Talladega. His best finish in 14 Nationwide starts at Charlotte is second, which occurred in October 2005.

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson are those Sprint Cup Series regulars scheduled to compete in the History 300. Busch holds the record for most Nationwide wins at Charlotte with eight. He scored a season-sweep here last year.

FORMULA ONE

Monaco Grand Prix - Circuit de Monaco - Monte Carlo, Monaco

The Monaco Grand Prix is not only the most prestigious event on the Formula One calendar, but its the toughest race of the season as well.

Monte Carlo has been one of the most difficult circuits, where overtaking is virtually impossible. Qualifying here is most important, with the pole sitter winning nine of the last 10 races, including the previous five (2009-13).

Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes is attempting to win his fifth straight grand prix. Two weeks ago, Hamilton grabbed the lead in the world championship point standings after winning the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. He holds a three- point advantage over his teammate, Nico Rosberg.

Two practice sessions for the Monaco GP were held on Thursday. In P1, Hamilton posted the quickest lap around this 3.34-kilometer, 19-turn street circuit in 1 minute, 18.271 seconds. Fernando Alonso from Ferrari topped the time charts in P2 with a lap in 1:18.482. Hamilton was second in that session.

"The car is still a work in progress, but it felt really good out there," Hamilton said after Thursday's practice sessions. "I'm feeling pretty set for Saturday. There is still some work to do, but we have [Friday] to look into that and finish all our preparations for the weekend."

Alonso is the only active driver who has multiple victories in the Monaco GP. He won it in 2006, driving for Renault at the time, and again in 2007 when he was with McLaren.

"Here in Monaco, the most important thing in practice is to do as many laps as possible, because it is a very special track and you need to have a good feeling from the car," Alonso said. "Despite the rain reducing the amount of track time in the second session, we more or less managed to complete all of our program. The complexity of this track remains the same, so doing well in qualifying will be crucial."

Hamilton won the Monaco GP from the third starting position in 2008, the same year he captured his first F1 world championship when he was driving for McLaren. This is his second season with Mercedes. He finished fourth in last year's race here.

"I just love racing here," Hamilton said. "This track is one of the coolest ever. It's such a classic race, and I've been trying to win here again since 2008. I'm hoping this is the year, as we have such a great car."

One year ago, Rosberg made history in the Monaco GP when he took the checkered flag 30 years after his father, Keke, won in the principality. The Rosbergs became the first father-son duo to win this race. Keke is the 1982 F1 world champion.

Nico Rosberg resides in Monaco.

"For me personally, it was a very, very special experience [winning the Monaco GP], because it's my home," he said. "It's where I've grown up. My whole life has been centered around Monaco. So to win here was great. And not only that but also it's the race to win. It's the most challenging race to win and the most prestigious race to win, so really that was awesome."

Rosberg won the March 16 season-opener in Australia but has finished second to Hamilton in each of the last four grand prix (Malaysia, Bahrain, China and Spain). He was second in the first practice session for the Monaco GP and 20th in the second practice.

The Monte Carlo circuit features a slower average speed than any other circuit on the current F1 calendar. Teams bring their highest downforce aero configurations, and Pirelli supplies them with its soft and supersoft tires in order to maximize mechanical grip.

This circuit recently had new asphalt placed on significant parts of the track.

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