Elliott Sadler (Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Elliott Sadler looks to outperform Blake Shelton on Saturday — sort of

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JOLIET, Illinois – In a twist of fate, Elliott Sadler will go head-to-head for the first time in his career against one of his best friends, country music superstar Blake Shelton on Saturday night.

Shelton will be performing at Chicago’s fabled Wrigley Field that evening, while at the same time about 50 miles southwest, Sadler will be racing in the EnjoyIllinois.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.

“I need to look at my schedule better,” Sadler said Friday prior to the first NNS practice at Chicagoland. “When I found out Blake was playing at Wrigley Field, and he’s so excited to play there tomorrow night … I called him and said, ‘Ok, Blake, this is the plan: We’re going to come to Wrigley Field Saturday night, come see the concert, you stay over Sunday and come to the race, have a good time and all that.

“And then I looked at my schedule and we race at the same time you (play). Can you set back your starting time? We can’t because we’re on TV.”

Unfortunately, Shelton’s concert also precludes starting later, and it’d be virtually impossible for Sadler to catch a helicopter ride from CLS to Wrigley.

“It’s funny for us to be this close to each other,” Sadler said of Shelton. “He said he’ll be watching the race in the truck on TV before he goes on stage. We’ll catch each other another time.”

But if Sadler earns his second win of the NNS season Saturday night, Blake’s post-concert party will also turn into a Sadler victory party, as well.

“If we make it to victory lane, he said he’ll hold up the party somehow, some way until we get there,” Sadler said with a laugh.

Sadler is currently second in the NNS standings, a place where he’s been for eight of the last nine races (the other time, he was leading the points).

He has one win (Talladega), five top-5 and 12 top-10 finishes in the first 17 races, and hopes this is the year he finally wins that elusive Nationwide championship.

It would be especially sweeter for Sadler given that Nationwide Insurance is leaving as series sponsor at the end of this season.

Saturday’s race is very important for Sadler. Although he won at Chicagoland in 2012, he very easily could have had two more wins had it not been for late-race failures.

“We won here two years ago, were leading three years ago and we had a flat tire with five laps to go, and last year I was leading with four laps to go and bottomed out with the splitter,” Sadler said.

This will be Sadler’s 10th career NNS start at Chicagoland. In addition to the win, he has a fourth-place finish in this race last year, was eighth in the 2012 fall race and sixth in the 2011 fall race, as well.

All told, he has one win, two top-5 and four top-10 finishes at Chicagoland.

A close second to his hopes of winning again in the shadow of the Windy City is the opportunity to earn $100,000 in the Nationwide Dash-4-Cash promotion.

“I think any time you go for $100,000, it’s a lot of fun,” Sadler said. “That’s a lot of money that Nationwide Insurance puts on the line for us.

“There’s always a lot of excitement around that. It’s a fun stretch, these five races here and a lot of money up for grabs.

“To come here for probably one of our best tracks and to race for $100,000, it’s an exciting weekend.”

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.