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JR Motorsports is the new team to beat in Nationwide Series

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Last year, the Nationwide Series effectively belonged to Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing. Penske’s platoon of drivers for its No. 22 car (Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, A.J. Allmendinger) and JGR’s Kyle Busch in the No. 54 car flat-out dominated NASCAR’s No. 2 national series.

But so far this year in the NNS, JR Motorsports has been returning the favor.

Kevin Harvick brought home JRM’s third consecutive NNS win last night in Richmond, while Chase Elliott, the man that had won the first two races in that streak, finished second.

Overall, it’s the fourth win in eight races this year for the JRM camp when you count Regan Smith’s season-opening victory at Daytona International Speedway.

And while Smith has been somewhat overshadowed by Elliott’s meteoric rise as of late, he’s also posted Top-10 results in every race (he finished eighth after contact with Elliott Sadler caused him to spin off of a late restart).

Then there’s the fact that Elliott and Smith are first and second in the NNS championship standings.

Indeed, between the strong cars and talented stable of drivers, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. appears to have created a monster.

“All the performance on all the cars is a direct reflection of everybody that works there,” Earnhardt said after another trip to Victory Lane. “It’s working good and I hope we can keep it going. I think we can get even better and continue to get stronger.”

Following his first win as a member of JRM, Harvick admitted that he was a little surprised that everything’s worked out as well as it has – but he’s certainly enjoying it.

“It’s a lot of fun to see this whole thing come together,” he said. “It’s still kind of strange sitting up here with [Earnhardt] and in Victory Lane.

“We talked about a lot of things going into the year and you want them all to come together, but I don’t think anybody knew they’d come together like they have. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of.”

Now, Busch and the Penske No. 22 haven’t fallen off completely in 2014. Busch has taken the No. 54 to two wins in the NNS at Phoenix and Bristol, while Keselowski took the No. 22 to a win in Las Vegas.

But at least for the time being, JRM has become the team to beat.

“There is a lot of effort put in by everybody back at the shop, and it’s great to see it paying off,” said Smith.

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.