Kyle Busch on failing inspection, Cup drivers in NNS and getting ‘more noise’ than Keselowski, Logano

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Kyle Busch didn’t appear fazed by the fact his Nationwide Series car failed pre-race inspection and he was forced to start at the back of Saturday’s TreatMyClot.com 300.

When asked by ESPN’s Vince Welch before the race how it would impact his chances in the race, the younger Busch brother was curt and to the point.

“Absolutely none, everything’s fine,” Busch said. “It’s just unfortunate that we weren’t able to qualify and qualify on the pole. We just gave everybody else a chance today.”

It’s that kind of response that gives additional ammunition to fans who are growing tired of Sprint Cup drivers racing – and dominating, particularly Busch and his record 65 career wins – in the NNS.

The younger Busch brother was momentarily taken aback when Welch asked how he would feel if he was a full-time Nationwide driver and forced to compete against someone who is so dominant in the series.

Once again, Busch failing to directly answer the question.

“Well, good thing I don’t have to think about that, so I really won’t,” he said. “I just worry about what I am and what I have to do today with this Monster Energy Camry and get it to victory lane.”

Finally, Welch broke through when he asked Busch what he learned during his Nationwide days.

“I learned how to race,” Busch said. “I learned a little bit how to Saturday race, but also you learn a little how to Sunday race and what those guys (Cup drivers) are doing.

“My (NNS) rookie season (2004), I won five races against those guys and I probably could have won more if it wasn’t for them being in the series, but I still won a lot and learned even more.

“I think it’s something that helps you out if you want to further yourself on up to Cup and get ready for that.”

Saturday was Busch’s 275th career start in the Nationwide Series. In addition to his 65 wins, he came into the race with 154 top-five and 189 top-10 finishes.

Break those down further, and Busch has won 24 percent – essentially one in every four – of the NNS races he’s entered.

He’s finished in the top-five 56 percent of the time and an in the top-10 an unheard 69 percent.

ESPN analyst and former Sprint Cup driver Ricky Craven took Busch’s supremacy  in the series to task. Craven empathized with full-time NNS drivers forced to continually finish behind Cup drivers such as Busch, particularly in the latter part of the season.

Craven is on to something: Of Busch’s 65 NNS wins, only 13 times has the runner-up been a Nationwide driver.

“He doesn’t need 100 Nationwide races in his career to prove he’s great to me,” Craven said of Busch. “He’s a great driver, but running 26 races a year and he’s a top-tier Sprint Cup driver seems like a conflict of interest. I’m not saying he doesn’t belong in the Nationwide Series, but 15 times a year is enough.

“There are (NNS) drivers that have disappeared because of the suffocating effect of not being able to get attention, to sell the sponsorship. I’m not saying what Kyle’s doing is wrong, he loves it, but it’s great for Kyle Busch. And in this business, or in sports, drivers and athletes will be selfish if you allow it.”

Craven likely won’t get an argument from Busch on the selfish part, whether fans love him or hate him.

“I seem to get more noise than when Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano win,” Busch admits.

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Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told NBCSports.com that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500