STP 500 - Practice

Jeff Gordon: Mix of aggression, finesse key to Martinsville success


Jeff Gordon knows a thing or two about what it takes to win at Martinsville Speedway, seeing as he’s done so in Sprint Cup competition eight times over the course of his career.

Gordon’s most recent triumph at NASCAR’s oldest track came last fall in the Chase and as you’d figure, it’s given him confidence as the series returns to the paperclip this weekend for the STP 500.

His approach differs from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, another eight-time winner at Martinsville: Attack on the restarts, but then remain deliberate and show patience.

“You have to be aggressive on restarts and that is just in general to where we go these days,” he said before qualifying today. “There are some tracks that I feel I have done a good job with that and others that I haven’t. For me, this track is about finesse. This track is about patience. If it comes down to a late caution then I think yes, it comes down to aggressiveness but also what line you are in.

“You want to be in that inside line and if you are in that outside lane then you can be as aggressive as you want but it’s not going to do a whole lot for you to get down and into that inside lane.”

Gordon enters Martinsville after having his Top-10 streak to begin the year snapped at four races last weekend at Fontana.

He was in position to win the race late after teammate Jimmie Johnson suffered a tire failure while leading with seven laps left, but a caution came out with two laps to go after Clint Bowyer suffered his own failure and spun.

That sent the leaders to the pits, where Gordon lost track position after a four-tire stop. He fell back further when the race entered the green-white-checkered finish, and settled for 13th.

Afterwards, Gordon criticized Goodyear for not being prepared for the situation. During the week, he had a tire test at the Sonoma Raceway road course in California but he said today that he did not speak to the manufacturer about the Fontana matter.

“No, I’m too mad at them to have a discussion with them about that right now,” he admitted. “I went and did everything I could to put the best test together that I could there to learn what we could to go to Sonoma and win.

“Tires aren’t an issue there when it comes to that type of situation we had at Fontana. I did not discuss it with them.”

He then conceded that “we all play a role in it,” but noted that the teams’ aggressive setups was what it was going to take for them to win races.

“…If no tire test happens at [Fontana,] then I think that I would question why not,” he said.

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.