Singer/actress Pia Toscano will sing the National Anthem before Sunday's Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (Photo courtesy Auto Club Speedway)

Pia Toscano, Billy Ray Cyrus and Elvis (kind of) have Auto Club Speedway president excited

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Auto Club Speedway track president Gillian Zucker’s personality makes her typically one excited individual — but she’s gone to almost a hyper-speed level of excitement this weekend.

Sure, she’s hosting about 75,000-plus fans at Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Auto Club 400 at the ultra-wide, two-mile Southern California track.

But Zucker has a ton more activities that will encompass the entire race weekend.

Look at Sunday’s lineup alone: potential line dancing to Billy Ray Cyrus (thankfully, without daughter Miley) during a pre-race concert, Pia Toscana singing the National Anthem, the Muppets’ Great Gonzo as grand marshal (and he’ll make his entry being shot out of a cannon) and Olympic medalist skier Bode Miller and volleyball pro wife Morgan will serve as honorary race starters.

And then there’s the – literally – the piece de resistance: Elvis imitators selling chicken pieces in a brand new and aptly-named track restaurant, “Love Me, Tender” (as in the top thing on the menu, chicken tenders).

Oh yeah, and there’ll be a NASCAR Sprint Cup race to boot, on what its track president calls “almost unquestionably the best surface in NASCAR.”

Zucker has so much going that she’ll wax effusively and tell anyone who’ll ask.

One of those was KERN radio morning host Scott Cox, who spent nearly 15 minutes on-air with Zucker Thursday on the Bakersfield, Calif. station’s “First Look” program.

(FYI, Bakersfield is also the home town of NASCAR stars Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears).

Check out the video version of Zucker’s interview with Cox below, and you might want to take notes because we don’t think there’s anything she missed – and there’s lots to remember – about this weekend’s fun-filled weekend.

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.