Kyle Busch holds off Chase Elliott to earn pole for Friday night’s Nationwide Series race at Darlington

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Kyle Busch held off rookie Chase Elliott to earn the Coors Light Pole Award Friday afternoon for that evening’s VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 Nationwide Series race at Darlington Raceway.

Busch recorded a best speed of 173.681 mph in the second of his final two qualifying laps around Darlington’s unique 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval.

It was Busch’s 37th career Nationwide Series pole, and also extends a string where he has earned at least one pole in each of the last 11 NNS seasons that he’s competed in.

“To win another pole in another season is pretty good, and we’d like to come out of here with another win tonight,” Busch said.

Not only is he on the pole, but Joe Gibbs Racing is the likely overall favorite, having won seven of the last eight NNS races at the so-called Track Too Tough to Tame.

Elliott, who earned his first career NNS win last week at Texas, was just a tick away from Busch, recording the second-fastest speed at 173.448 mph.

“(Busch) just put up a little bit better lap than I did,” Elliott said. “I just have to improve and try to do a better job next time. Regardless, we got a good starting spot for us. We just have to make sure we hold on to track position tonight.”

Another JGR driver, Matt Kenseth, was third (173.106), followed by fourth-fastest Kevin Harvick (171.662) and Ty Dillon as the fifth-fastest (171.249).

Among those that failed to reach the final 12-driver knockout round were Texas Sprint Cup winner Joey Logano, Dylan Kwasniewski, Brendan Gaughan, James Buescher and Ryan Reed.

With just over a minute left in the third and final qualifying round, Kyle Larson’s broke loose, spun and he kissed the inside retaining wall with the right side of his Chevrolet.

Damage did not look significant, and even though the race was due to start just over two hours later, his team is going to try and repair Larson’s Chevrolet so he can take advantage of his 12th-place qualifying position before the wreck occurred.

That was not the case for Larson earlier Friday, when he wrecked his primary car in the first of two Sprint Cup practice sessions, forcing him to go to a backup car for Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 race.

The green flag for Friday night’s NNS race drops at 7:30 pm ET and will be televised on ESPN2.

Here’s how Friday night’s VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 stacks up:

Row 1

Kyle Busch 173.681 mph, Chase Elliott 173.448

Row 2

Matt Kenseth 173.106, Kevin Harvick171.662

Row 3

Ty Dillon 171.249, Chris Buescher 170.922

Row 4

Brian Scott 170.857, Regan Smith 170.572

Row 5

Elliott Sadler 170.283, Trevor Bayne 169.631

Row 6

Cale Conley 168.914, Kyle Larson 132.112

Row 7

Brendan Gaughan 169.836, Ryan Sieg 169.789

Row 8

Joey Logano 169.543, Landon Cassill 168.810

Row 9

Dylan Kwasniewski 168.602, Ryan Reed 168.538

Row 10

Josh Wise 168.526, Mike Bliss 168.394

Row 11

Jeremy Clements 167.853, James Buescher 167.476

Row 12

J.J. Yeley 167.436, David Starr 166.259

Row 13

Dakoda Armstrong 166.631, Jeffrey Earnhardt 166.518

Row 14

Mike Wallace 166.349, Tanner Berryhill 166.236

Row 15

Todd Bodine 166.197, Eric McClure 165.693

Row 16

Kevin Lepage 165.009, Joey Gase 164.490

Row 17

Matt DiBenedetto 163.696, Tommy Joe Martins 163.462

Row 18

Derrike Cope 161.790, Carlos Contreras 160.816

Row 19

Matt Carter 160.507, Jeff Green 160.397

Row 20

Mike Harmon 157.808, Blake Koch 156.015

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Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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Honda Photo
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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