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The Fourth Turn
Author: Paul Gohde
July 6th 2012 -

With the Independence Day holiday now over, attention shifts back to the track as both NASCAR and IndyCar return to action, while Rolex Grand Am begins testing for its debut at Indianapolis. Let’s take a look at what’s going on in each of these series as summer action heats up.

IndyCar: With only one oval race (Fontana) remaining of the final six IZOD IndyCar events, the advantage in the run for the series’ championship turns to the series’ road racing experts as points-leader Will Power looks forward to the left-right turns ahead. He has won three road/street events in 2012, while runner-up Ryan Hunter Reay has two oval wins. Third spot belongs to Scott Dixon with one road/street win. Helio Castroneves is in fourth with one road/street victory at St. Petersburg. It looks like this weeks’ street course event at Toronto could see Hunter-Reay’s win streak end at two. Don’t rule out 2012 Indy 500-winner Dario Franchitti, however. A run of bad luck has left Franchitti in eighth spot in the standings, but the Scot has captured two of the past three Toronto events, including last year, and looks to get back on the winning track north of the border.

The Push-to-Pass concept returns to Indy Car this weekend, and will be available on the remaining road/street courses. The overtake assist feature, introduced to the series in 2009, allows a driver to increase turbocharger boost and gives additional RPMs with the press of a button on the steering wheel to complete a pass. This will be the first use of this feature with the new engine/chassis package and should increase passing opportunities.

NASCAR: Questions abound in the Sprint Cup Series as the haulers park at Daytona for the Coke Zero 400. Matt Kenseth leads Dale Earnhart Jr. by eleven points; each having one 2012 victory. Kenseth’s checker came at the Daytona 500 back in February, while Junior’s was at Michigan three weeks ago. Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin complete the top-five, but Hamlin may have trouble on the Daytona high banks this week as he is dealing with recurring back pain. Brad Keselowski has three wins, but is hanging on to tenth in the Cup standings.

Only nine events remain until the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins at Chicagoland Speedway in September, and each point is coveted as we remember last year’s Tony Stewart/Carl Edwards tie for the Cup. Edwards holds eleventh spot in the standings- 34 points out of the top-ten Chase spots- but with no 2012 wins for the Roush Fenway Ford pilot, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne, with one victory each, hold the final two ‘Wild Cards’ to qualify for the Chase.

An announcement may come soon regarding Chrysler’s NASCAR plans for 2013 and beyond. Left with no team affiliations for next year after Team Penske announced a switch to Ford, stories have circulated that IndyCar’s Andretti Autosports may expand its empire to include a Dodge team in Sprint Cup, and with Matt Kenseth becoming a free-agent in 2013, the rumor mills are actively trying to link the two in a blockbuster pairing. Joey Logano’s future in Joe Gibbs’ Home Depot Toyota could also play a role in Kenseth’s future plans. Time will tell, and we may know their plans sooner than later.

Grand Am: The road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is humming with action this week as Grand Am Rolex and Continental Tire Challenge teams begin testing for their inaugural appearance in the Super Weekend surrounding the Brickyard 400 later in July.

With over 100 cars expected to participate in events at the 2.534 mile road course on Friday, July 27th, two days of practice began today that will help teams come to the track to race later this month with some knowledge of how to attack a course unlike any that they run on outside of Daytona.

Beside the Grand Am regulars, Chip Ganassi plans to enter a second prototype for Juan Montoya and Jamie McMurray in the 3-hour event. Paul Tracy is also entered.

Fans can get up close to the weekend action as a 45-minute ‘Fan Walk” is scheduled before the Continental Tire race. Both Rolex and Continental paddocks will be open to fans throughout the day.