History 300 - Practice

How will Greg Ives handle the spotlight as Dale Jr.’s crew chief?

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Within an hour of Hendrick Motorsports’ announcement that Greg Ives (pictured, right) would become the new crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. starting in next year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup season, he was trending on Twitter in the United States.

That’s the thing about NASCAR’s most popular driver: Whatever happens with him is going to have a big spotlight on it.

And Ives will have to show that he can handle the heat.

This will probably be the biggest test for Ives when he moves over to the No. 88 from his current duties at JR Motorsports shepherding young Nationwide Series phenom Chase Elliott.

As an engineer for Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team during its five-year run of Sprint Cup titles from 2006-2010, Ives had to help keep one of the most impressive dynasties in NASCAR history on top, again and again.

And right now, he’s bringing along a young driver that could become one of NASCAR’s biggest faces over the next 10-20 years.

So, Ives is used to pressure. And winning. But what awaits him in 2015 is a different kind of pressure.

While Ives should get along well with Earnhardt as they’re familiar with each other through their work at JRM, Ives will have to deal with an amount of attention that dwarfs anything he’s ever encountered.

All of his decisions – especially the ones that may backfire on the 88 – will be open to nitpicking, dissecting, and second-guessing from an insanely rabid fan base and a media contingent that stretches beyond the racing world because of Earnhardt’s presence.

The level of scrutiny will be far, far, far above what he gets at this point in the Nationwide Series. Even in his current position of guiding a potential future superstar like Elliott, the difference might as well be night and day.

But for Ives, it will be essential to block out all that noise in order to carry out his most important task: Continue the upward trajectory Earnhardt’s been on since last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup and help him finally join his late father as a Sprint Cup champion.

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.