NRA 500

By the numbers: The 2013 Chasers at Texas

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This weekend, the Chase for the Sprint Cup is going to the Circus – “Wild Asphalt Circus,” that is.

The intensity surrounding the championship is sure to build even further at Texas Motor Speedway, as Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson enter the AAA Texas 500 tied for the lead – although Kenseth does hold the tie-breaker, as his seven victories this season trumps Johnson’s five.

Four of Kenseth’s seven wins in 2013 have come on 1.5-mile ovals such as Texas but based on past performance at this track, both himself and Johnson appear evenly matched going in – which could make Kenseth’s runner-up effort this past weekend at Martinsville all the more critical in the end.

However, both Kenseth and Johnson’s greatest challenge this weekend may not be each other.

Kyle Busch’s title hopes are now in serious danger after late-race handling problems at Martinsville caused him to finish 15th. But in the Sprint Cup Series’ first visit this year to Texas back in April, Busch was able to take the lead coming out of the final pit stops and go on to win. Expect him to leave nothing on the table as he tries to erase a 36 point deficit over the final three races.

Ahead of Busch at third and fourth in the championship respectively are Jeff Gordon (-27 points), your winner at Martinsville, and Kevin Harvick (-28 points). They too must position themselves to capitalize on any misfortunes Kenseth and Johnson may have.

As provided weekly by NASCAR, here’s a glimpse at what the 13 Chase contenders have done in their Cup careers at TMS:

Matt Kenseth (Leader – 2,294 points; holds tie-breaker over Jimmie Johnson with 7 wins this year)
· Two wins, 12 Top-5s, 15 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 8.5 in 22 races
· Series-best Average Running Position of 9.3
*Series-best Driver Rating of 106.5
*Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 173.225 mph
*Series-high 4,497 Laps in the Top 15 (79.0%)

Jimmie Johnson (Second – 2,294 points; 5 wins this year)
· Two wins, nine Top-5s, 15 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 9.1 in 20 races
· Average Running Position: 10.9, third-best

Jeff Gordon (Third, -27 points)
· One win, eight Top-5s, 11 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 17.0 in 25 races
· Average Running Position: 13.3, 10th-best

Kevin Harvick (Fourth, -28 points)
· Three Top-5s, 10 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 12.5 in 21 races
· Average Running Position: 15.2, 15th-best
*Series-high 1,360 Green Flag Passes

Kyle Busch (Fifth, -36 points)
· One win, six Top-5s, seven Top-10s
· Average Finish: 14.1 in 16 races
· Average Running Position: 11.2, fourth-best

Clint Bowyer (Sixth, -55 points)
· Three Top-5s, eight Top-10s
· Average Finish: 12.9 in 15 races
· Average Running Position: 12.8, ninth-best

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Seventh, -56 points)
· One win, three Top-5s, 12 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 14.3 in 22 races
· Average Running Position: 11.9, sixth-best
*Series-high 707 Quality Passes (passes within Top 15)

Greg Biffle (Eighth, -58 points)
· Two wins, eight Top-5s, 12 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 15.3 in 19 races
· Average Running Position: 12.3, seventh-best
*Series-high 458 Fastest Laps Run

Kurt Busch (Ninth, -75 points)
· One win, three Top-5s, 12 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 15.2 in 21 races
· Average Running Position: 14.7, 14th-best

Carl Edwards (10th, -76 points)
· Three wins, six Top-5s, eight Top-10s
· Average Finish: 14.4 in 17 races
· Average Running Position: 11.9, fifth-best

Joey Logano (11th, -85 points)
· Two Top-5s, two Top-10s
· Average Finish: 21.7 in 10 races
· Average Running Position: 22.2, 28th-best

Ryan Newman (12th, -106 points)
· One win, three Top-5s, four Top-10s
· Average Finish: 19.8 in 20 races
· Average Running Position: 20.8, 22nd-best

Kasey Kahne (13th, -124 points)
· One win, four Top-5s, five Top-10s
· Average Finish: 18.7 in 18 races
· Average Running Position: 15.4, 16th-best

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.