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‘This is my job’: Gabby Chaves making most of difficult situation

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TORONTO – Gabby Chaves spent the weekend at the Honda Indy Toronto watching someone else do the only job he’s ever wanted — and that he had until a few days ago.

As Conor Daly turned laps in the No. 88 Dallara-Chevrolet, Chaves watched intently with a headset and radioed feedback about its handling. He participated in team debriefs after practice. He chatted and smiled amiably with team members fine-tuning the car in the paddock.

Chaves did everything but climb behind the wheel of the car he drove for the first 11 races of the season – until the difficult conversation Monday in which Harding Racing team president Brian Barnhart informed him the team would be evaluating its performance with other drivers.

Five days later, the move still stung.

“Of course, man,” Chaves told NBCSports.com with a smile Saturday after returning from the team’s pit stand. “Of course. And while I understand it, it doesn’t make it any easier to accept, but if I want to grow and want my team to succeed and move forward, I’ve got to play and support the decisions they make.

“If it helps us move forward, we’ve got to do it. … It’s never easy to be on the sidelines and be watching, but this is my job is to be here, so that’s what I’m doing.”

Though it’s Daly in the car this weekend, it’s still Chaves’ face on the side of the team’s transporter, indicative of the fact that he has a contract through the 2019 season that should return him to the car.

The tentative plan is to use various drivers over the final six races of the season to build a framework for expanding to a second car next year (with Chaves returning to his full-time ride).

“It’s not easy,” Barnhart said. “On the other hand, if you walked in and told your driver, ‘Hey, I’m going to sit you this weekend because we’re going to go a different direction and get different feedback,’ if the guy goes, “Oh, OK, that’s fine,” you don’t want that guy anyway.

“He was pissed, and that’s exactly the way you want him to be. He’s fighting every second that car is on the track, he wants to be in it, and that’s the way it should be. After the discussion that it was going to happen, I can’t do anything but compliment Gabby for his professionalism, his class, his dignity in the whole thing.”

Just the scene near the team’s transporter after practice seemed inherently awkward.

Daly, wearing his firesuit, rolled up on a scooter, and the fourth-place finisher in last year’s “Amazing Race” quickly drew a throng of autograph-seekers. Meanwhile, Chaves, who was clad in a team polo, remained unnoticed while sitting at a table off to the side.

There was no trace of bitterness, though, as Chaves, 25, explained that a longtime bond with Daly made the situation easier.

“We’ve been racing together since we were 12 years old together, so we’ve known each other for a long time,” Chaves said. “So that makes it easier to work, of course.

“He’s just a driver just looking for the opportunities, right? I’ve been there before. There is no awkwardness between Conor and myself. We’ve been friends for a long time. We know what it’s like to be out of a ride, in a ride, out of a ride. The best we can do is actually support each other here.”

Daly, who was back in a car for only the second race this season and the first since a 21st in the Indianapolis 500, can appreciate the feeling of being in limbo. He has been sidelined most of 2018 after consecutive full-time seasons in IndyCar and has nothing lined up beyond Toronto.

“This is not an easy game we are playing, and obviously, I appreciate how Gabby’s been through this whole process,” Daly, 26, said. “He’s been awesome. It is what it is. It always sucks to have to be in that situation. I’ve been in that situation before. But yeah, we’ll both keep moving forward.

“What can you do about it? He’s been on the radio every single time. We’ve both been learning together. He’s been communicating while on the pit stand, which is great. It’s a team effort. If he sees this team benefit from this, then it will help him in the long run for sure also.”

There were immediate benefits in qualifying Saturday when Daly took advantage of a session briefly interrupted by rain to qualify 11th, the team’s best starting position since Chaves started eighth in the season opener at St. Petersburg.

Harding, the only one-car team running the full 2018 schedule in the Verizon IndyCar Series, faces an uphill battle of trying to be competitive against multicar teams with more data and funding to optimize their parts and setups. Barnhart said the biggest technology gap is in shock development, estimating bigger teams can spend $500,000 to $1 million annually (Harding doesn’t have a shock program).

At Iowa Speedway, Chaves was instructed by the team to park the car after 99 of 300 laps. Ranked 18th in the points standings with no hope of improving, Barnhart said the team has been focused on 2019 since Chaves finished 14th at Indy, one of three tracks the team ran with him in 2017.

“The transition into a full-season car has been an enormous task for this team because of the different equipment necessary to go road and street and short oval racing,” Barnhart said. “We were ill prepared for the size of that task for the diversity of tracks and to do a full season of racing. We had some stuff to do superspeedway racing, and that’s it. We still don’t have the right components to do short ovals, road courses and street circuits.

“There have been too many times this year we feel we’re taking a knife to a gun fight.”

Barnhart said the feedback at Toronto from Daly, whose style is different than Chaves, “validated” the handling woes and struggles that the team has faced this season.

Chaves also “made some good suggestion contributed as well” to improving the car Saturday, Barnhart said.

“It’s been a good weekend,” Barnhart said. “That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a tough weekend. But it was the right decision, and now we just need to take that information and move forward.”

The next step is a Tuesday test at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in which the team is expecting to use both Daly and Chaves to simulate what a two-car setup could resemble next year.

Then after an off week, the team will re-evaluate its driver lineup for Mid-Ohio, Pocono, Gateway, Portland and Sonoma. It likely won’t be Chaves in the car, but the team still expects him to be there.

“All I said to him was I know this is going to be tough and can’t be easy to watch someone else drive your car, but we’d really like for you to be there and participate,” Barnhart said. “But if it’s too difficult emotionally and you can’t do it, I’d understand. He kind of hesitated on it, and he said, ‘I’ll be there.’ It’s just a reflection of what kind of guy he is. It’s the right thing to do, and he did it.”

Chaves plans to attend the final five races just as he did in Toronto.

“Yeah, of course,” he said. “Of course. That’s my job, man.”

Supercross: Tomac, Roczen square off in Arlington; Webb gives chase

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The Monster Energy Supercross championship battle remains tight after Eli Tomac took the lead from Ken Roczen just last week at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Now the series heads to Arlington, Texas, and the AT&T Stadium for Round 8. (Watch on NBCSN or stream live.)

Tomac’s third win of the 2020 season and Roczen’s third-place finish at Tampa gives Tomac a four-point advantage in what is essentially a wide-open title fight with three races on tap in Arlington.

And while it is still much too early to call this a two-man battle, Cooper Webb is 11 points back with Justin Barcia 20 points out and Adam Cianciarulo 27 points in arrears – and all three cannot afford to lose any ground this week.

Tomac has the momentum. He allowed the field to get a jump after finishing seventh at Anaheim in the season opener, but finished fourth or better in the remaining events.

Roczen also got off to a slow start in Anaheim 1 with a sixth-place finish. He seemed to have a firm grasp on the red plate with four consecutive podium finishes until he slipped to sixth for a second time at San Diego.

Webb is coming into his own with three consecutive podiums in the last three events. If not for a 12th at St. Louis, he would be in immediate contention for the red plate.

This week is the second Triple Crown race of the season and Roczen hopes he has the same success as he did at Glendale. He won all three Mains that weekend and easily walked away with the overall victory. Tomac finished 2-2-3 for second overall. It is going to be imperative that a rider takes the early lead.

Blake Baggett qualified for last week’s Main, but chose to sit it out after experiencing sever muscle spasms. He will ride in Arlington.

Henry Miller will return to riding at Arlington after breaking a scapula in Australia.

Subscribe to the Supercross Pass for complete qualification and race coverage of the 2020 season.

For the third time in his career, Shane McElrath started the season with a victory. He won the season-opener in 2017 and 2018 in the West division at Anaheim, but failed to lock down a 250 title. His seventh career win moved him to 25th on the chart, however, with Travis Pastrana, Trey Canard, and a host of others.

Chase Sexton got his title hunt off to a strong start last week as well. He finished second to earn his 10th podium in 19 starts, but he will be hungry for a win. Despite the fact that he won last year’s 250 West championship, he has only one race victory to his credit.

Last week, Jeremy Martin looked like he had not been off his bike for more than a year. Returning from a 2018 injury, Martin snagged a podium finish in his first race back.

Schedule:

Qualifying: 1 p.m. on NBC Sports Gold
Race: 8:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSN

Last Week:

Eli Tomac beat Cooper Webb and Ken Roczen in the 450 class.
Shane McElrath beat Chase Sexton and Jeremy Martin in the 250 class.

Last Dallas race (February, 2019):

Cooper Webb beat Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin in the 450 class.
Austin Forkner beat Justin Cooper and Chase Sexton in the 250 class.

Points Leaders

450s:
Eli Tomac (155)
Ken Roczen (151)
Cooper Webb (144)
Justin Barcia (135)
Adam Cianciarulo (128)

250 West:
Dylan Ferrandis (135)
Justin Cooper (128)
Austin Forkner (122)
Brandon Hartranft (110)
Alex Martin (98)

250 East:
Shane McElrath (26)
Chase Sexton (23)
Jeremy Martin (21)
Garrett Marchbanks (19)
Jordon Smith (18)

Wins

450

(3) Eli Tomac (Anaheim 2, Oakland and Tampa)
(2) Ken Roczen (St. Louis and Glendale)
(1) Justin Barcia (Anaheim 1)
(1) Cooper Webb (San Diego)

250 West

(3) Dylan Ferrandis (Anaheim 2, Oakland, and San Diego)
(2) Austin Forkner (St. Louis and Glendale)
(1) Justin Cooper (Anaheim 1)

250 East

(1) Shane McElrath (Tampa)

Top-5s

450

(6) Eli Tomac
(6) Cooper Webb
(5) Jason Anderson
(5) Ken Roczen
(5) Justin Barcia
(3) Adam Cianciarulo
(2) Zach Osborne
(2) Blake Baggett
(1) Justin Hill

250 West

(5) Dylan Ferrandis
(5) Austin Forkner
(5) Justin Cooper
(4) Michael Mosiman
(4) Brandon Hartranft
(3) Alex Martin
(1) Christian Craig
(1) Jett Lawrence
(1) Jacob Hayes
(1) Luke Clout

250 East

(1) Shane McElrath
(1) Chase Sexton
(1) Jeremy Martin
(1) Garrett Marchbanks
(1) Jordon Smith

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