NASCAR Testing - Charlotte

Can Team Penske capitalize on quick pace in Vegas?

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Team Penske’s Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have shown great pace in the last two weeks, but as they’ll tell you, they now they have to find a way to capitalize on it and win.

Neither driver has ever won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but Keselowski won the pole in last year’s race there and converted that to a third-place result. Logano has been on the so-so side at LVMS, with his best finish being a sixth in 2010.

Their reactions after finishing in the Top-5 last weekend at Phoenix have made it clear that they want to get themselves into the Chase as soon as possible with a victory. Once again, they appear to have the speed to be toward the front in tomorrow’s Kobalt 400 but being at the front is what counts.

With all the practices in the books before tomorrow’s main event, let’s pinpoint a few more potential threats…

Kevin Harvick (starting 16th)
Yeah, we’re going out on a limb with this one. If you watched NASCAR AMERICA earlier this week on NBCSN, you’ll know that Harvick’s ride for Las Vegas may be even stronger than the one he had in his win last week at Phoenix. He started outside the Top 10 there, too. Be ready to see another quick dash to the front from him.

Clint Bowyer (starting 9th)
He’s been in the Top-10 in three of the four practice sessions this weekend (we’re counting the Thursday test as a practice), and in the one session he didn’t run in the Top-10, he wasn’t far off in 12th place. Bowyer’s buried in the standings after a DNF in the Daytona 500, and he could use a good result tomorrow.

Jamie McMurray (starting 7th)
McMurray, as well as Chip Ganassi Racing as a whole, has started 2014 solidly. He was only 20th-fastest  in Thursday’s test, but has picked it up over the last two days (including this afternoon’s final practice, which he topped). It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him hanging around in the Top 10 throughout tomorrow’s race.

Jimmie Johnson (starting 5th)
Johnson entered Las Vegas hoping his team would make gains with the new rules package and it appears they may have found something if this weekend’s practices are an indication. A four-time winner in Las Vegas, he’ll likely be in the hunt for a fifth triumph in Sin City tomorrow.

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.