DIEZ: Local racing gets under way

With all the professional racing series' seasons under way, it's time to get started with local racing. Rattlesnake Raceway in Fallon has its preseason play day today starting at 1 p.m., open to all eight of the track's racing divisions. Attendance by rookies is mandatory. The first points race is scheduled for April 16. Next Saturday, April 9, is the play day and media day for Reno-Fernley Raceway's five racing divisions. It is also the first TT race for motorcycles and quads at Thunder Bowl Speedway in Mound House. Reno-Fernley's season officially opens with its inaugural NASCAR points event on April 23.

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After last weekend's busy schedule (two NASCAR divisions, IndyCar, and Formula 1), this weekend is relatively quiet. The Camping World Trucks will qualify at Martinsville this morning at 7:30 a.m. and will race at 11 a.m. following Sprint Cup qualifying at 9 a.m., all televised on SPEED. Martinsville, like many tracks this season, has moved Sprint Cup qualifying to Saturday to tighten up the show.

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Last weekend saw dominating performances by defending series champions Sebastian Vettel in Formula 1 and Dario Franchitti in IndyCar. Both won their races in convincing fashion, leading from flag to flag. Kyle Busch dominated the Sprint Cup race in California, leading the most laps. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson led the next-most, while Kevin Harvick led only one lap, but it was the only lap that counted, the last one. It was undoubtedly the most exciting finish seen at Auto Club Speedway ever, with Harvick making the winning pass on the last turn of the last lap.

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IndyCar's new double-file restart rule proved to be problematic, although the biggest melee occurred on the initial start, which has always been double-file. Marco Andretti was out on the first lap, and Danica Patrick was the only Andretti Motorsport driver still around at the finish. And even she had to pit twice to have her car's nose replaced. Patrick may be overshadowed this season by another female driver, Simona de Silvestro. In the opening race of her sophomore season, de Silvestro ran second for a good portion of the race, and mixed it up with Tony Kanaan in the closing laps, finally finishing fourth. Kanaan, back in the driver's seat after a very turbulent off-season, was jubilant over finishing third with a team that was less than a week old.

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Aside from Vettel's unchallenged run in the F1 season opener, the McLaren team seems to have rebounded from a lackluster testing season, as Lewis Hamilton finished second and teammate Jensen Button staged a spirited dice with Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, probably the best racing I've seen in recent seasons. And Vitaly Petrov made history by bringing his Renault home third, making him the first Russian driver ever to stand on an F1 podium. The new movable rear wing did not seem to have much effect on the race, and Steve Matchett, former F1 mechanic and current SPEED commentator, was very negative about the convoluted rules concerning its use. On Dave Despain's Wind Tunnel program last Sunday, Matchett also disparaged the current "green" trend in F1, opining that if they wanted racing to be "green", they would just shut down the team shops and quit racing altogether.

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Heading into Martinsville this weekend, the Joe Gibbs Racing teams are scratching their collective heads over a series of engine issues. And with its long straights and tight turns, Martinsville requires hard acceleration and deceleration, which are particularly hard on engines. In addition to failures experienced by Kyle Busch at Las Vegas, Joey Logano at Phoenix, and Denny Hamlin in California, there have also been changes of suspect engines prior to races. An earlier explosion and fire at the team's engine facility has them down to one dynamometer, which impacts their ability to both produce engines and to research the problems. Thus far they have discovered no common cause for the failures, leaving all three JGR drivers concerned about continuing problems. With both Busch and Hamlin favorites to make the Chase and possibly dethrone Jimmie Johnson, a few more failures could put both out of the running.

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