Times Staff Writer

What's happening in motor sports heading into this weekend:

1. NASCAR returns to its roots Saturday night with the Dodge Challenger 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

The tight, egg-shaped oval, which held its first race 58 years ago, is legendary in NASCAR and known as "the Lady in Black" because drivers routinely scrape its walls -- or worse -- as they maneuver around the 1.4-mile circuit.

The track will have an added quirk because it was repaved after last year's race. Drivers aren't sure how that will affect this year's event, although testing on the new surface indicated speeds will go up.

For at least one driver, three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr., the whole experience will be new.

"I don't know what to expect this weekend in Darlington because I have never been there before," said Hornish, who switched to stock-car racing this season.

The closest he ever came to Darlington, he said, was when "I drove by the track 10 years ago on my way to Myrtle Beach for my senior trip in high school."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., meanwhile, is going retro this weekend. His No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will have the green-and-white Mountain Dew paint scheme similar to that used by Darrell Waltrip when he won Cup titles in 1981 and 1982.

2. Darlington might be just what Earnhardt teammate Jeff Gordon needs to climb back into the top 12 in points -- the group that qualifies for NASCAR's late-season title playoff.

Gordon, a four-time Cup champion who is currently 13th in the standings, has won at Darlington seven times in 27 starts. The wins included last year's race, when he reached Victory Lane despite an overheating engine.

"The Darlington we all love is still here" despite the repaving, he said. "The track is smooth and super fast, but it's the same Darlington."

3. Formula One driver Heikki Kovalainen was declared fit to race in Sunday's Turkish Grand Prix, two weeks after he was briefly knocked out after a high-speed crash in Barcelona, Spain.

"I feel 100% . . . and we have done a lot of fitness training," said the Finnish driver with McLaren Mercedes.

Kovalainen is sixth in Formula One's championship standings, six behind teammate Lewis Hamilton in second and 15 behind leader Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.

4. Drivers have started practicing for the Indianapolis 500 on May 25, with Marco Andretti posting some of the fastest laps at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Andretti's quickest lap on the opening day of practice was 226.599 mph, followed by his Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan at 225.269 mph.

Another teammate, Danica Patrick, opened with a fast lap of 224.095 mph. "We're pleased and we've got a little bit more work to do," said Patrick, who last month became the first woman to win a major U.S. open-wheel race.

5In local racing Saturday night, moms will be admitted free to the four-race program at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale in honor of Mother's Day. Sprint cars head multi-race lineups at Perris Auto Speedway and at Ventura Raceway.



*--* NASCAR SPRINT CUP Dodge Challenger 500 *--*

When: Today, qualifying (Speed, 2 p.m.); Saturday, race (Ch. 11, 4 p.m.).

Where: Darlington Raceway (egg-shaped oval, 1.366 miles, 25 degrees banking in turns 1-2, 23 degrees in turns 3-4), Darlington, S.C.

Race distance: 501.322 miles, 367 laps.

*--* NASCAR NATIONWIDE Diamond Hill Plywood 200 *--*

When: Today, qualifying (Speed, noon), race (ESPN2, 4 p.m.).

Where: Darlington, S.C.

Race distance: 200 miles, 147 laps.

*--* FORMULA ONE Turkish Grand Prix *--*

When: Saturday, qualifying (Speed, 4 a.m.); Sunday, race (Speed, 5 a.m.).

Where: Istanbul.

Race distance: 193.836 miles, 58 laps.

All times Pacific


Associated Press



Juan Pablo Montoya, above, now a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, holds the Formula One single-lap speed record (set in 2005) at the 14-turn track in Istanbul, Turkey, site of Sunday's F1 race.



Kevin Harvick, Sprint Cup driver,

on Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, site of

Saturday night's Cup race:

'Keeping the car off the walls is a key factor.'

Want to be part of Peltz's Q&A; on motor sports? E-mail him your question at

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