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Matt Kenseth dominates early on at Bristol but comes up short in Nationwide race

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Racing a NASCAR Nationwide Series car at Bristol Motor Speedway is like riding a bicycle for Matt Kenseth: he never forgets how to get around the .533-mile bullring.

The last time Kenseth competed in an NNS race at Bristol was August 21, 2009.

He finished fifth.

Fast forward to March 15, 2014 and Kenseth essentially picked up where he left off from his last time in an NNS event at Bristol, once again finishing fifth in Saturday’s Drive to Stop Diabetes 300.

Kenseth dominated the first two-thirds of the race, leading 179 of the event’s 300 laps.

But once Kyle Busch got past Kenseth late in the race, and aided by Busch getting a great jump on the final restart nine laps from the checkered flag, Kenseth would ultimately finish four spots back.

“We didn’t lead the last one,” Kenseth quipped when asked what was the difference in the race. “Our car was pretty fast today. It was actually real fast.

“I just got passed in lapped traffic (by Busch). There was just so much lapped traffic. I thought I was being too aggressive the way it was but Kyle got me there, picked me and then got by me.”

Restarts were Kenseth’s Achilles heel in Saturday’s race.

Otherwise, it might have been him standing in victory lane and not Busch, who earned his seventh career NNS triumph at Bristol (also his third in a row and sixth in the last eight Nationwide starts there) and his 15th win overall across all three NASCAR national series.

“After (he was passed by Busch for the final time), every restart I was on the bottom,” Kenseth said. “It was just such a deficit on the bottom.

“I’d spin the tires down there a little bit and by the time you’d get through (turns) one and two, a couple rows would pass you on every restart. I could never draw the top.”

Even so, Kenseth shouldn’t feel all that bad. His overall NNS record at Bristol is still stellar: 18 starts, three wins, 11 top-5 and the same number of top-10 finishes.

What’s more, even with the nearly five-year layoff, it kept a streak going of eight top-fives in his last nine NNS starts overall at BMS.

“I thought we had a great car,” Kenseth said, still feeling dejected at the outcome. “These guys deserved to have a shot to win there and I just didn’t get it done for them.”

What he missed Saturday, he may get in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Food City 500. Kenseth starts third and will be going for his fourth career Cup win there (he also has 11 top-5 and 18 top-10 finishes).

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

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.