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NASCAR: Larson “really confident” of Daytona chances, but wary of Big One

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Kyle Larson’s first Sprint Cup experience at Daytona International Speedway didn’t end well.

With 39 laps to go in February’s season-opening Daytona 500, Larson was taken out in a multi-car pileup that began when fellow rookie Austin Dillon slid up the track and into Larson, who promptly spun out and into oncoming traffic.

This weekend, he’ll be returning to Daytona hoping for a better result in the Coke Zero 400 – preferably, a win that would seal his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Right now, Larson is within the Chase Grid but not by much. He’s tied for 14th on the Chase Grid with Greg Biffle at 474 points and Clint Bowyer is just one point behind in the 16th-place cutoff.

A victory Saturday night at the 2.5-mile oval throws all that points talk out the window. But in order to contend, Larson knows he has to avoid the mayhem that so often comes with restrictor-plate racing.

“We’re really confident, but at the same time it’s a track where things can go really badly,” said Larson in today’s NASCAR teleconference.

“Just kind of setting goals as every other week, try to finish the race and get a Top-10, and see if we can put ourselves in position to get a win at the end – that would be great.

“The biggest goal is to try and stay out of the Big One, because it’s going to happen. I’m sure there will be one or two of them throughout the race. [We need to] try to stay out of trouble.”

Larson will also be looking to bounce back from a couple of poor results in the last two races.

He was one of the quickest drivers during the Sonoma weekend two weeks ago, but brake and power steering problems during the race relegated him to a 28th-place finish.

Then last weekend at Kentucky, a right-front tire failure sent Larson into the wall at Lap 76 for his first DNF since the aforementioned Daytona 500.

But with the Chip Ganassi Racing team’s relatively solid pace throughout the season, Larson isn’t fretting.

“I think my crew chief [Chris Heroy] said it best – he’d be worried in the last couple years, but now our car has been fast, so he’s not worried at all,” he said.

“That’s good, and gave me some more confidence because I think any other two weekends or having two bad races would be less nerve-racking, but then you go to Daytona where the chances of another bad weekend are high, so it’s easy to get nervous about that.

“We haven’t had many struggles all year, and now we’ve had a couple bad ones. Just got to get back on track.”

Meanwhile, Larson has added another race this summer to his itinerary beyond the Sprint Cup Series. He confirmed today that he would drive a Turner Scott Motorsports entry in the Camping World Truck Series’ July 23 race on the dirt at Eldora Speedway.

“I don’t know if I was supposed to say anything or not about the [Eldora] race,” said Larson, who finished second last year at Eldora to Austin Dillon.

“But yeah, we’re running that race. I’m really excited about that. We’re going to go test here pretty soon and get ready for that one because that’s definitely a race I want to win.  We were close last year, so it’s nice to get to go back and give it another shot.”

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.