Cheez-It 355 At The Glen

Allmendinger’s win was a positive on challenging weekend (VIDEO)

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At any other time, A.J. Allmendinger’s triumph on Sunday at Watkins Glen International would be hailed.

His win in the Cheez-It 355 was his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.

It propelled him and his single-car JTG Daugherty Racing team into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

And it came after an electrifying battle over the last two laps with Marcos Ambrose, a driver equally skilled as he is in road racing, if not more so.

Then there’s the comeback aspect.

In 2012, Allmendinger failed a drug test and subsequently lost his full-time Sprint Cup ride with Team Penske. That led to a 2013 season in which he kept jumping between stock cars and open-wheel, where he first rose to fame as an American star in the tail end of the Champ Car era.

He then decided that NASCAR was where he needed to be and signed up for a full-time return to Cup this year with the small JTG Daugherty outfit.

And now, with Sunday’s win, they’re all going to be fighting the giants – Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and the like – for a championship this fall.

Allmendinger’s won some big races in his career, including the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona after holding off sports car ace Allan McNish in a great duel.

But considering everything he’s gone through, which he dubbed vividly yesterday as “absolute hell,” this is the topper.

When you think about it, this story has everything. Sadly, it also has unfortunate timing.

The shocking sprint car incident on Saturday night that involved SHR co-owner Tony Stewart and took the life of young Kevin Ward Jr. has become the talk of the sports world.

As investigators continue to hunt for any bits of information that can help them reach a final say on the matter, many in the fan base and in the media community have already – and loudly – taken sides.

And through it all, Ward’s family and Stewart are all having to come to grips with the fact that this will be with them for the rest of their days, no matter the final judgment from the authorities.

It’s a difficult situation that will only get tougher in the days and weeks ahead. And right now, it’s casting a dark cloud over all of motorsports.

Some could compellingly argue that it’s overshadowing Allmendinger’s moment in the sun. Other winners this year – notably Aric Almirola at the July Daytona race and Brad Keselowski at Loudon a week later – were overshadowed by accidents, so Allmendinger joins that unfortunate club.

But that doesn’t really matter in this instance. As beautiful as Allmendinger’s win was to see, it means nothing compared to matters of life and death.

However, to his great credit, Allmendinger struck the right tone on the subject after taking the checkered flag.

“This NASCAR community as a whole, we’re a family, and when anything like that happens, it’s something that you don’t just kind of erase and you forget about,” he said.

“And all of our thoughts and prayers, and it may not seem like it, or I wish there was more to do, but it goes to the Ward family and what happened. It also goes to Tony because it’s not like he’s sitting there and forgetting about it. It’s a tough scenario.

“You just try to come together. That’s all you can do. You try to be thankful every day for the things that we have, the things that we’re able to share together, and you also know that there’s a lot less fortunate out there and there’s a lot of disasters, whether it’s in racing or not.”

Think of the Wards. Think of Stewart. Be thankful for what you’ve got and who you’ve got to share them with. Be mindful of those that are troubled.

Allmendinger’s victory may not get its proper due. But he still deserves our thanks for that much-needed dose of perspective, and for lifting our spirits on what was an otherwise dreary Sunday.

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.