Coke Zero 400 - Practice

Even in good times, Kenseth maintains “sense of urgency”

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This much is obvious: With four wins to his credit (including one last weekend at Kentucky), Matt Kenseth’s decision to jump to Joe Gibbs Racing over the off-season has been great so far.

But even though any bit of trepidation about the move should have evaporated by now, the former Sprint Cup champion said earlier this week at Daytona International Speedway – site of tonight’s Coke Zero 400 – that he still feels pressure every week to perform well for his new team.

“I don’t know that it ever totally goes away,” said Kenseth, who will start on the front row tonight alongside JGR teammate Kyle Busch. “I think that in this sport in general, you always have to have that sense of urgency and I don’t think you could ever get too comfortable. Everybody can be replaced and you have to perform each and every week. It’s a really ‘what have you done for me lately’ sport, obviously.

“I don’t know that you ever get 100 percent comfortable in what you’re doing. I think you have to stay hungry and always be focused on what’s in front of you and not necessarily what’s behind you.”

But Kenseth also feels a high sense of confidence going into tonight’s 400-miler, as he should. The Wisconsin native has become one of the drivers to beat whenever the Cup circus visits a restrictor plate track, collecting two wins and leading 473 total laps across the last six plate races at both Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway.

“I feel real good about it,” said Kenseth of his chances. “I’ve been really spoiled honestly the last year and a half –  the last six plate races. Our cars have just been unbelievable.”

As for what he expects to see tonight, Kenseth feels that the race may play out as a cross between the season-opening Daytona 500 and the race at Talladega back in May. Those events were decidedly different, with the former marked by long stretches of single-file racing and the latter seeing lots of pack racing.

“Probably more like Talladega – I’m not sure why,” he said. “I’m not sure why Talladega would’ve been different other than just people learn more about the [Gen 6] cars – getting the cars better – figure out how to put them in different positions in situations to make more passing and more side-by-side. I’m not sure.

“You know in February [at Daytona], the groove was right around the top and you couldn’t really do much different than that and [at] Talladega, it wasn’t at all. It was actually – it didn’t seem like you wanted to be way up there. So, we’ll kind of have to wait and see.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.