Paul Menard benefits from Joey Logano’s misfortune, wins Nationwide race at Michigan

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Sprint Cup regular Paul Menard earned his second career Nationwide Series victory (and first since 2006), capturing Saturday’s Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 250 at Michigan International.

“Man, it’s good to be back to victory lane,” Menard told ESPN after the race. “Win No. 2 and I think we finished second or third a ton the last couple years, so this feels good.”

Menard led just 18 of the event’s 125 laps, but the big story of his win was being in the right place at the right time.

With five laps to go, race-leader Joey Logano was forced to pit after suffering a flat right rear tire, costing him the win and allowing Menard to assume the lead, holding on for the checkered flag.

“I ran over something at some point, it pretty much sucks,” said Logano, who finished 16th. “We had a real good Ford the whole race. … I hate giving them away like that, you know. To look for the silver lining, we had a fast race car and we should have won the race. You win some this way, and you lose some this way, and today we lost one that way.

“That’s racing for you. Sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes you’re the windshield.”

Menard, who has one career Sprint Cup win (2011 Indianapolis), could empathize with Logano’s frustration, as he has been in that spot a few times himself.

“I was trying to run him down, we were catching up just a little bit, but I wasn’t going to get him,” Menard said of Logano. “I thought that the best car was going to finish second again. We had this happen to us a couple of times last year. … The best car won today. … I hate to wish bad luck on Joey, but we’ll take it.”

Sam Hornish Jr. finished second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. (making his final appearance on the Nationwide circuit this season), pole-sitter Kyle Busch and Brian Scott in fifth.

Sixth through 10th were Chase Elliott, Regan Smith, Kyle Larson, Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher.

With less than 25 laps, Elliott Sadler was running second when a large piece of debris became wedged in the front end of his Toyota. Sadler tried to get behind Earnhardt to hopefully suck the debris off the grill, but it didn’t work.

As a result, Sadler was forced to pit to remove the debris, which was causing his motor to be on the verge of overheating, and went from second-place to 23rd upon exiting pit road, albeit still on the lead lap.

The only significant wreck in the race occurred on Lap 80 when Trevor Bayne and Dylan Kwasniewski got together. It appeared Kwasniewski’s car wiggled and then slid up into Bayne, putting both of their cars into the wall.

Kwasniewski, who turned 19 two weeks ago, continues to struggle in his rookie season on the Nationwide series circuit. He’s managed just one top-10 finish in 13 starts, and Saturday is now his third DNF in 2014.

Regan Smith continued to hold on to his lead in the season standings, increasing his edge to 14 points over second-ranked Elliott Sadler (unofficial points standings are listed below Saturday’s race finishing order).

The series moves to Road America in Wisconsin next Saturday, followed by Kentucky Speedway on June 27, Daytona on July 4, New Hampshire on July 12 and Chicagoland on July 19.

 

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Here’s the finishing order for Saturday’s Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 250 at Michigan International Speedway:

1 Paul Menard

2 Sam Hornish Jr.

3 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

4 Kyle Busch

5 Brian Scott

6 Chase Elliott

7 Regan Smith

8 Kyle Larson

9 Ty Dillon

10 Chris Buescher

 

11 Ryan Reed

12 Ross Chastain

13 Ryan Sieg

14 Landon Cassill

15 James Buescher

16 Joey Logano

17 Elliott Sadler

18 Mike Bliss

19 Dakoda Armstrong

20 Jeremy Clements

 

21 JJ Yeley

22 Brendan Gaughan

23 Jeff Green

24 Blake Koch

25 Jeffrey Earnhardt

26 Josh Wise

27 Joey Gase

28 Mike Harmon

29 Ryan Ellis

30 Trevor Bayne

 

31 Dylan Kwasniewski

32 Harrison Rhodes

33 Jamie Dick

34 Carl Long

35 Derrike Cope

36 Tanner Berryhill

37 Matt Carter

38 Tommy Joe Martins

39 Kevin Lepage

40 Tim Schendel

 

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Unofficial Nationwide Series points standings after Saturday’s Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 250 at Michigan International Speedway:

1 Regan Smith

2 Elliott Sadler -14

3 Chase Elliott -20

4 Ty Dillon -35

5 Trevor Bayne -50

6 Brian Scott -55

7 Brendan Gaughan -122

8 Chris Buescher -123

9 James Buescher -124

10 Ryan Reed -152

 

11 Landon Cassill -153

12 Dylan Kwasniewski -169

13 Dakoda Armstrong -171

14 Mike Bliss -175

15 Jeremy Clements -225

16 Jeffrey Earnhardt -240

17 JJ Yeley -249

18 Joey Gase -264

19 Ryan Sieg -280

20 Eric McClure -282

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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