Elliott Sadler heads back to Victory Lane in Nationwide at Talladega

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Elliott Sadler successfully held off the swarm in the final three laps to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway for his first NNS triumph in almost two years.

In the final dash to the checkers, Sadler was pushed on the bottom by David Ragan while Chris Buescher and Regan Smith hooked up on the outside.

That was how they looked as they crossed the stripe side-by-side at the white flag, but in the end, Sadler was finally able to clear Buescher and lead the pack home in a clean finish.

“We just got on the inside line and we just had to make some good moves, and the sea kind of opened up for us,” Sadler said to ESPN. “It means a lot to me to get these guys in Victory Lane. I disappointed them last year when I wasn’t able to do it.

“To do it at Talladega – everybody’s always asking [me] about flippin’ at Talladega. [Darn it], man, we’ve won one at Talladega, so this feels a lot better.”

The stage was set for a wild finish with 10 laps remaining, when Chad Boat was spun hard into the inside backstretch wall to bring out the caution flag.

David Starr had been able to get in front of JR Motorsports’ trio of drivers (Smith, Elliott and Kasey Kahne) in the short green run that began with 14 to go, but lost the lead to Elliott right before the race went yellow for Boat’s wreck.

Elliott would lead the field to the restart with six laps to go, but quickly fell back on the outside. Then, as the field went into Turn 3, Elliott Sadler and Ryan Blaney made contact while fighting for the lead.

Blaney skidded into the outside wall then came back down into Elliott, who in turn sent Jeremy Clements hard into the wall. Kahne and Ryan Sieg were also impacted by the incident, which triggered a red flag period of just over nine minutes.

When the cars got rolling again under yellow, Sadler was now leading ahead of Buescher, Ragan, Smith and Starr. The green came back with three to go, and Sadler was forced to play some great defense before finally earning a hard-earned W.

“Under the red flag, I was playing all these scenarios in my head – really on how many races I’ve lost in the last couple of laps by not making the right decision,” Sadler said.

“But we just stayed to the bottom and stuck to our guns. David Ragan did a good job pushing us and we were just able to hold those guys off at the end.”

Today’s race proved to be a war of attrition, as the Sadler-Blaney incident was just one of several crashes that kept crossing out potential winners.

On Lap 45, James Buescher was tagged by Blaney in Turn 3 and spun to the bottom, where he ended up hitting Darrell Wallace Jr. and Dylan Kwasniewski.

Wallace was especially frustrated, declaring flatly “I hate plate racing.”

“I’m gonna be the Debbie Downer here,” said Wallace, a regular in the Camping World Truck Series. “I’m not looking forward to Talladega for the Truck race. That’s just the way it goes.”

Then on Lap 62, Brian Scott – who had won the pole just hours earlier for tomorrow’s Sprint Cup main event – was caught in an eight-car pileup that began after he was spun by Trevor Bayne in Turn 3.

Scott’s teammates at Richard Childress Racing, Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan, were also involved in the crash (Gaughan was knocked out of the race along with Scott, while Dillon kept going and finished 15th).

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES AT TALLADEGA
Aaron’s 312 – Unofficial Results
1. Elliott Sadler, led 40 laps
2. Chris Buescher, led 1 lap
3. Regan Smith, led 20 laps
4. David Ragan
5. Sam Hornish Jr.
6. Joe Nemechek
7. J.J. Yeley, led 1 lap
8. Landon Cassill
9. David Starr, led 5 laps
10. Trevor Bayne
11. Joey Gase, led 1 lap
12. Mike Bliss
13. John Wes Townley
14. Tommy Joe Martins
15. Ty Dillon, led 3 laps
16. Jeffrey Earnhardt
17. Eric McClure
18. Dakoda Armstrong
19. Chase Elliott, led 3 laps
20. Ryan Sieg
21. Ryan Blaney, one lap down, led 2 laps
22. Kasey Kahne, Lap 111, Accident
23. Jeremy Clements, led 1 lap, Lap 111, Accident
24. Ryan Reed, Lap 108, Running, led 29 laps
25. Chad Boat, Lap 107, Accident
26. Josh Wise, Lap 91, Engine
27. Jamie Dick, Lap 87, Running
28. Mike Harmon, Lap 86, Accident
29. James Buescher, Lap 86, Running
30. Kyle Larson, Lap 78, Running
31. Darrell Wallace Jr., Lap 74, Running
32. Robert Richardson Jr., Lap 63, Engine
33. Brian Scott, Lap 61, Accident
34. Brendan Gaughan, Lap 61, Accident
35. Dylan Kwasniewski, Lap 43, Accident
36. Bobby Gerhart, Lap 31, Engine
37. Carl Long, Lap 14, Electrical
38. Jeff Green, Lap 4, Vibration
39. Matt DiBenedetto, Lap 3, Vibration
40. Blake Koch, Lap 1, Vibration

Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

Honda Photo
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