Bojangles' Southern 500 - Practice

Aric Almirola sets new Darlington track record, starts P3 tomorrow

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For the sixth time this season, a Sprint Cup track record was set in qualifying as Aric Almirola became the fastest man ever at venerable Darlington Raceway this evening.

Almirola logged a lap of 184.145 miles per hour in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion during the second round of the three-round knockout qualifying for tomorrow’s Bojangles Southern 500.

That made him tops among the 12 drivers that advanced to the final round, but Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano were able to beat him in those last five minutes, putting Almirola third on the starting grid.

“We just missed it a little bit [in the final round],” Almirola said. “We made one adjustment right there before that third session and I don’t think we went far enough. We were just a little bit too tight, but that was a heck of a lap by Harvick.

“That track record lap actually didn’t feel – I felt like I was going faster in the third session than I did in the second session, and I went faster in the second session. It was a great lap for us.”

Lately, RPM has focused on its intermediate program, which has lacked so far this year in comparison to the team’s work on short tracks.

Today, it paid off with Almirola qualifying third and teammate Marcos Ambrose qualifying alongside him in fourth.

“Typically, we’ve not run really well on short tracks and our mile-and-a-half program has where we’ve been best. But the roles are kind of reversed this year, and we’ve put a lot of effort into our mile-and-a-half program, and we ran a lot better at Texas.

“[We’re] still not where we need to be, but ran a lot better and then brought a race car here this weekend…[that] has a lot of speed in it. I feel really good about it.”

Almirola also wants to do well for his crew chief, Trent Owens, who is having a homecoming weekend at the track “Too Tough To Tame.” Owens grew up just a few miles from Darlington.

“I told him before we ever got here that he was gonna have to carry me this weekend because I do not like this race track and I tend to struggle here,” Almirola said. “So far, he’s carrying me pretty good. He brought me a really good car that’s got a lot of speed in it.

“Now we’ve gotta make it last 500 miles.”

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.