Matt Bowling won Denny Hamlin's Short Track Challenge Thursday at South Boston (Va.) Speedway. (Photo courtesy Matt Bowling)

Local drivers put NASCAR racers in their place in Denny Hamlin’s Short Track Challenge

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Score one – actually, score a lot – for the local guys over the big NASCAR stars, as Matt Bowling, of Ridgeway, Va., won Denny Hamlin’s Short Track Challenge Thursday night at South Boston (Va.) Speedway.

In fact, local drivers who are weekend racers around Virginia dominated the seventh annual event, which is held to raise funds for Hamlin’s Cystic Fibrosis Research Lab at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Bowling rallied to grab the lead five laps from the finish on the .20-mile track and held on to defeat Whelen All-American Series and Virginia driver Matt Waltz, who finished second, followed by another Virginia racer, Nick Smith, in third.

Waltz had led all of the first 195 laps, according to Adam Hainsfurther of the Danville (Va.) Register & Bee, until Bowling slid in front of him and held on for the remainder of the race.

That local drivers did so well in the late-model race wasn’t surprising, according to Camping World Trucks Series Timothy Peters, who finished 27th after a late wreck with fellow truck driver Jeb Burton, who finished 25th.

“It’s hard for the guys in the upper three (NASCAR) series to come back and run one of these cars and be competitive,” Peters told the Danville (Va.) Register & Bee. “It’s just that much more difficult to drive than a truck or a Nationwide [Series] car or a Cup car.

“You’ve got the best of the best here in my opinion. To come in here and mix it up with these guys — you’ve done something. Any of these guys’ credentials could put them in the top three series. It’s just all about that big break.”

The highest-finishing NASCAR driver was Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch, who wound up fourth, falling short of defending his win in the event last year.

Busch has won four of the first seven races in the event’s history, which was held for the first time at South Boston on Thursday.

Matt Kenseth was fifth, Hamlin finished eighth and David Ragan was 20th.

“We’ve had more presale tickets this year — about triple what we’ve ever had — so South Boston’s really done a great job of hosting this event,” Hamlin told the Register & Bee. “It’s a venue that we’re looking to stay at for at least a few years and continue to grow it.

“Every year we’re able to give more and more money to these children’s charities that benefit from it. … It’s definitely been really good to get this program running and every year to just keep growing it.”

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.