FORT WORTH, Texas – Gabby Chaves is hoping “The Eyes of Texas” will be on him again at tonight’s DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
The Colombian marched from 20th on the starting grid last year at TMS to collect a career-best fifth-place finish with Harding Racing. It was just the team’s second start in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
The 2018 season marked a full-season challenge for Chaves and Harding Racing. It has been a process of slow growth. Chaves has yet to crack the top 10 in the first eight races as the learning process with the new universal aero kit presenting its fair share of challenges.
Returning to the 1.5-mile Texas superspeedway oval could be just the doctor ordered to get things back on track. While an issue in qualifying on Friday relegated Chaves and the No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet to the 17th starting position for tonight’s race, he ran fifth in opening practice and was 11th in the all-important evening practice under race conditions.
“Absolutely, we had a good first practice,” Chaves said. “The car was spot-on in qualifying. I think we might have had some sort of fuel pressure issue or something. It just felt like it was losing power all through Turn 1 anytime the car took any load, which is a bit disappointing because the car was really good, really good.
“But it doesn’t matter because the race is where it counts and I was pretty happy (in practice). We’ll do what we can to rack up our best finish and hopefully start some momentum in a positive way.”
Since jumping on as the team’s driver coach, two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Al Unser Jr. has seen tremendous growth from Chaves, the 2014 Indy Lights champion who is in only his second full-time Verizon IndyCar Series season (and fourth overall).
“Gabby is great,” Unser Jr. said. “The raw talent that he has is just immense. What impresses me the most is how mature he is driving. He’s like a 35-year-old veteran and he’s a 24-year-old. The most impressive thing about Gabby is how he takes his time and makes sure the car is underneath him in order for him to go drive it hard.”
Unser Jr. referenced last year’s 500-mile race at Pocono Raceway as the shining moment that taught him about Chaves’ prowess and race craft, even though it ended with a 15th-place finish.
“We started the race and (the car) wasn’t right – we dropped like an anchor – but the most impressive thing was it rolled into the trailer (without crashing),” Unser Jr. said. “He didn’t ask more (from the car) over the whole 500-mile race.
“Most guys would have put it in the fence. They would have got frustrated, but he didn’t. Gabby is very methodical about how he goes about it, and I love the way he attacks it.”
Texas holds great memories for Unser Jr., as it was the site of his last Indy car win in 2003. Although the cars have seen progressive changes since, along with a track that has been repaved and reconfigured, the advice for his young pupil remains the same heading into tonight’s 248-lap event.
“Survive,” Unser Jr. said. “This place, you run two and three abreast all the way around. It’s a huge six rows deep. It’s just a huge traffic jam at 220 mph and the best thing you have to have is patience because, once you run out of patience, bad things happen. When you’re in that traffic jam and you’re running the laps, because it is a very long race, you’ve got to get to the next stop.
“Then you’ve got to get to the end of the race and really work yourself into the lead group from the last stop on. That’s the goal.”
Live race coverage on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network begins at 8 p.m. ET today. The DXC Technology 600 is the ninth of 17 races on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.