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GEARING UP

What’s new in motor sports heading into this weekend:

1) It’s Round 2 for the Car of Tomorrow as the Nextel Cup series races Sunday at its shortest track, the 0.526-mile Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.

Despite criticizing the newly designed car, Tony Stewart dominated its debut race in Bristol, Tenn., last weekend until a broken fuel pump hobbled his Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet.

Stewart said he hoped a Martinsville win would change his luck. “Plus, their grandfather clock is one of the coolest trophies around,” he said.

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2) The IndyCar Series holds the second race of its season Sunday on a 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The defending winner is Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, who was recently engaged. “All the guys that got married, they got a championship, so maybe it’s a good direction,” said Castroneves, who has won the Indianapolis 500 twice but never a series title.

3) Graham Rahal, the 18-year-old son of 1986 Indy 500 winner and IndyCar team owner Bobby Rahal, confirmed that he would drive in the Champ Car World Series this year for the Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing team. The series’ schedule includes the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15.

Rahal also is finishing his senior year of high school in New Albany, Ohio.

4) The team of funny car driver John Force is not competing at this weekend’s O’Reilly Spring Nationals in Houston because of the death last week of team driver Eric Medlen, who crashed during practice at Gainesville, Fla. Force said the team hopes to return in mid-April at the National Hot Rod Assn. event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

5) Late-model stock cars are featured in multi-race programs Saturday night at Irwindale Speedway and at Perris Auto Speedway in Riverside County.

-- JIM PELTZ

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

THE RACES

NASCAR NEXTEL CUP

Goody’s 500

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* When: Today, qualifying (Speed Channel, 12:30 p.m.); Sunday, race (Channel 11, 10:30 a.m.).

* Where: Martinsville Speedway (oval, 0.526 miles, 12 degrees banking in turns), in Martinsville,

Va.

* Race distance: 263 miles, 500 laps.

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* 2006 winner: Tony Stewart

* Next race: Samsung 500, April 15, Fort Worth.

NASCAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCKS

Kroger 250

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* When: Saturday, qualifying, 8:10 a.m., race (Channel 11, noon).

* Where: Martinsville Speedway (oval, 0.526 miles, 12 degrees banking in turns), in Martinsville,

Va.

* Race distance: 131.5 miles, 250 laps.

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* 2006 winner: David Starr

* Next race: O’Reilly Auto Parts 250, April 28, Kansas City, Kan.

INDY RACING LEAGUE

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

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* When: Saturday, qualifying, 9:45 a.m.; Sunday, race (ESPN, 11:30 a.m.).

* Where: Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. (1.8 miles, 14 turns).

* Race distance: 180 miles, 100 laps.

* 2006 winner: Helio Castroneves

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* Next race: Indy Japan 300, April 21, Suzuka.

NHRA

O’Reilly Spring Nationals

* When: Today, qualifying, 1 p.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 9:15 a.m. (ESPN2, 4 p.m., tape); Sunday, eliminations, 9 a.m. (ESPN2, 1 p.m., tape).

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* Where: Houston Raceway in Baytown, Texas.

* 2006 winners: Brandon Bernstein, top fuel; Ron Capps, funny car; Mike Edwards, pro stock; Angelle Sampey, pro stock motorcycle.

* Next event: SummitRacing.com Nationals, April 12-15, Las Vegas.

Source: Associated Press

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STANDINGS

*--* NEXTEL CUP No. Driver Points Behind 1. Jeff Gordon 791 -- 2. Jeff Burton 788 -3 3. Jimmie Johnson 716 -75 4. Matt Kenseth 697 -94 5. Kevin Harvick 647 -144 6. Kyle Busch 639 -152 7. Mark Martin 629 -162 8. Clint Bowyer 621 -170 9. Denny Hamlin 606 -185 10. Carl Edwards 598 -193 11. David Stremme 587 -204 12. Tony Stewart 575 -216 13. Elliott Sadler 543 -248 14. Bobby Labonte 525 -266 15. J.J. Yeley 522 -269 BUSCH 1. Carl Edwards 1005 -- 2. Kevin Harvick 808 -197 3. Kyle Busch 757 -248 4. Dave Blaney 714 -291 5. Matt Kenseth 683 -322 TRUCKS 1. Mike Skinner 550 -- 2. Todd Bodine 481 -69 3. Ron Hornaday 451 -99 4. Jack Sprague 449 -101 5. Ted Musgrave 440 -110

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LIFE IN THE FAST LANE

Jeff Gordon, on the upcoming birth of his daughter this summer: ‘I think it’s going to be one of two things: It’s either going to make me work that much harder and appreciate racing that much more and enjoy it that much more, or it’s going to make me go, “I don’t even want to do this.” ’

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ON THE WEB

* AT&T; and NASCAR are squaring off in a federal lawsuit that has major financial implications, but a letter from NASCAR’s general counsel doesn’t even get the spelling of sponsor Nextel right; go to latimes.com/sports.


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