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NASCAR: New Hampshire a special place for Brian Vickers

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Last year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Brian Vickers effectively sealed his full-time return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Running as a part-time driver for Michael Waltrip Racing, Vickers held on to win in Green-White-Checkered for his first Sprint Cup triumph since 2009. About a month later, Vickers was announced as the new full-time driver of MWR’s No. 55 Toyota starting this season.

The win remains special to Vickers for many reasons, but perhaps none bigger than that it represented a successful career comeback after blood clots sidelined him in 2010 (blood clots also ended his 2013 campaign early but he returned in time for this season).

“The biggest thing was, you know, kind of in Victory Lane reflecting back to a couple years earlier when I was sitting in a hospital not sure if I’d ever race again, being told there was a good chance that would never happen again,” Vickers remembered in today’s NASCAR teleconference.

“Through the support of so many friends and family and people like Michael to give me a chance, Toyota helping me and supporting me through the process, a good team behind me, [they] got me back in into a car and got me not only back into the Sprint Cup Series but got me back into Victory Lane.

“That’s probably the biggest lingering memory from the win and why it means so much.”

Another win at New Hampshire in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 would also mean a lot to Vickers, who is battling to get into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

He currently sits beyond the Top 16 cutoff point but remains in the picture at 10 points behind Austin Dillon, the current holder of the 16th and final position on the Chase Grid (Greg Biffle is the closest to Dillon at four points back).

As we all know, a regular season victory effectively puts you into the post-season and Vickers almost punched his ticket last Sunday in a rainy Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. But in the end, NASCAR decided to call the race with Aric Almirola taking the win and Vickers having to do with second.

That didn’t sit well with Vickers, who said on Sunday he was “shocked” that NASCAR ended the race early at Daytona. Today, while admitting that there are certain factors to consider with each track, Vickers said that more formal guidelines should be put in place regarding rain-affected races.

“Obviously, some tracks have lights like Daytona so you can race well into the night and some tracks don’t have lights,” he said. “Some tracks have noise curfews, when you can start, when you have to stop a race, or there’s penalties.

“But I think having some guidelines in place to say, ‘Listen, at this track on a Sunday we will race until this time, on a Monday we’ll race until this time.’ Just kind of knowing that going in because you may make different decisions.”

Vickers was also asked about the recent formation of the Race Team Alliance, the nine-team group that not only has MWR in its stable but its co-owner, Rob Kauffman, as the chairman.

However, Vickers replied that he had only “heard little things here and there” about the RTA and said that it’d be better for him to defer questions to Kauffman, who’s emerged as the group’s de facto spokesman.

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.