(Illustration courtesy of NathansFamous.com)

NASCAR races at Charlotte, Pocono and Sonoma to serve as qualifying events for renowned hot dog eating contest

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If you’re going to upcoming NASCAR races at Charlotte, Pocono or Sonoma, come hungry and bring your appetite.

The three races will serve as qualifying events for the big daddy of hot dog eating contests, the  July 4 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating contest at Nathan’s Famous on Brooklyn’s (N.Y.) Coney Island.

The first NASCAR-themed qualifier will be on May 24, the day before the Coca-Cola 600. But instead of taking place at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the event will be part of the Speed Street celebration in downtown Charlotte.

The second NASCAR-themed qualifying event will be at Pocono Raceway on June 7, and the third and final qualifier will be at Sonoma Raceway on the morning of June 22, just a few hours before the start of that day’s scheduled Toyota/SaveMart 350 Sprint Cup race.

“This will be a terrific, entertaining element to add to the NASCAR party this year,” said Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway president and general manager. “We are excited to bring this to our fans in Northern California and know it will be a great addition to our weekend.”

All told, there are 13 qualifying events for the overall eat-off on July 4. The male and female contestant who eats the most hot dogs at each qualifier will be headed to the Big Apple to be part of the final field for the big contest.

If you think you, your appetite and stomach all have what it takes, go to NathansFamous.com for more information and instructions on how to register.

But be forewarned: the reigning champ is Joey Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., who holds the Nathan’s record of downing 69 hot dogs — yes, you read that right, 69! — and buns, as well, in 10 minutes in last year’s championship event. Chestnut has won the event each of the last seven years.

It’s not like we’re counting, but that translates into nearly seven hot dogs per minute, or one every eight-plus seconds.

Sonya Thomas of Alexandria, Va., won the female class last year, downing 36 3/4 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

Those interested in competing in a Nathan’s Famous qualifier should visitwww.nathansfamous.com to obtain information and register. All competitors must be over 18 years of age.

Official Listing of 2014 Nathan’s Famous Qualifiers:

April 26Las Vegas, NV (New York-New York Hotel & Casino)

May 3: Houston, TX (Memorial Mall)

May 17: St. Louis, MO (Busch Stadium)

May 24: Charlotte, NC (Speed Street celebration)

May 31: Bloomingdale, IL (Kmart)

June 1: St. Paul, MN (Dixie’s Stage, 695 Grand Avenue)

June 7: Long Pond, PA (Pocono Raceway)

June 7: Savannah, GA (River Street)

June 15: Queens, NY (Citifield Plaza)

June 21: Boston, MA (Government Center)

June 21: East Rutherford, NJ (State Fair Meadowlands)

June 22: Sonoma, CA (Sonoma Raceway)

June 29: Cleveland, OH (Crocker Park Shopping Center)

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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.