Chase Elliott takes 3rd Nationwide win of year in Chicago

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Rookie phenom Chase Elliott led a race-high 85 laps en route to winning his third NASCAR Nationwide Series race of the season tonight at Chicagoland Speedway.

Despite losing the lead to Kyle Larson ahead of the final round of green-flag stops in the EnjoyIllinois.com 300, Elliott was able to reclaim it when the cycle ended and eventually beat Trevor Bayne to the stripe by 1.8 seconds.

“I just try to make the most of the practice laps…The biggest thing is these guys brought me a really fast race car,” Elliott said to ESPN in Victory Lane about his ability to quickly learn the tracks.

“That’s the biggest thing. That gives me time to learn the race track instead of having to work on the car and do it at the same time.”

Elliott also took over the NNS points lead by a margin of seven points over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith, who endured a rough night and finished 16th.

Sprint Cup regulars Larson and Kasey Kahne finished third and fourth respectively, followed by Ty Dillon in fifth. Pole sitter Brian Scott was able to claim the $100,000 “Dash4Cash” bonus with a sixth-place result, two spots ahead of his closest D4C rival, Chris Buescher.

For next week’s race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it will be Elliott, Scott, Bayne and Dillon that race for the third of four $100,000 prizes.

“It’s really neat and I’m glad that we won it here and we’re locked into it for Indy,” said Scott. “We’ll just keep going and try to take a couple more of these big checks home…I think we just needed a little bit more of an adjustment – or two – to really be able to have a shot at Victory Lane.”

Another notable result tonight was the one from 18-year-old Erik Jones, who finished seventh in his Nationwide Series debut for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Tonight’s race was only seven laps old when Sam Hornish Jr., who had climbed to 21st after starting at the rear of the field for unapproved adjustments post-qualifying, crept to the pits with smoke coming from the back of his car.

As the caution came out for fluid laid down by the car, Hornish then pulled into the garage and exited the race with engine issues.

“We know one thing – there’s a big hole in the oil pan,” the former Indianapolis 500 champ said. “Our car was really good there to start off the race. We had to start at the back with a problem that we had during qualifying, but I felt like we were gonna have a really good day.

“The Monster Energy car was really awesome in practice and I felt like this was going to be a great opportunity to not only lead laps but go out and win the race. It’s unfortunate that it ended so soon, and it’s not what these guys or myself deserve.”

Shortly after the green came back out at Lap 14, Scott came under attack from Elliott for the lead. On Lap 21, Elliott was able to take the lead from Scott in Turn 3, but three laps later, the two started another skirmish that had them swap the point twice before Elliott finally pulled away.

As Elliott pushed his lead over four seconds, Scott fell into the clutches of Blaney, who peeled second off of him at Lap 43. Elliott eventually pitted from P1 at Lap 51, and when the wave of green flag stops ended, he had cycled back to the lead with a gap of 8.1 seconds over second-place Blaney and an 11+ second gap over third-place Scott.

That edge went away, however, on Lap 70 when the second caution of the night came out for debris. Blaney then used the restart on Lap 74 to power past Elliott and take control of the race for the first time.

Blaney held the lead until Lap 105, when Larson got by him to make his own first appearance at the front. Another set of green stops ensued around Lap 110, and the caution came back on Lap 123 just after the cycle came to a close.

On the restart at Lap 128, Blaney was leading but quickly lost the spot to Larson. While Blaney dropped out of the Top 5 with a developing loose condition, Larson briefly got sideways in Turn 2 at Lap 143, enabling Elliott to retake the lead on the inside.

Eventually, Blaney pitted at Lap 154 to get a track bar adjustment but went one lap down. Four laps later, Larson was able to fully recover from his close call on Lap 143 and grabbed the lead back from Elliott ahead of their final green stops with less than 40 to go.

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES AT CHICAGO
EnjoyIllinois.com 300 – Unofficial Results
1. Chase Elliott, led 85 laps
2. Trevor Bayne, led 14 laps
3. Kyle Larson, led 23 laps
4. Kasey Kahne, led 3 laps
5. Ty Dillon
6. Brian Scott, led 20 laps
7. Erik Jones, led 2 laps
8. Chris Buescher, led one lap
9. Ryan Blaney, led 47 laps
10. Elliott Sadler, led one lap
11. Brendan Gaughan
ONE LAP DOWN
12. Cale Conley
13. Jeremy Clements
TWO LAPS DOWN
14. J.J. Yeley
15. Ryan Reed
16. Regan Smith
17. Dylan Kwasniewski
18. Ryan Sieg
19. Mike Bliss
THREE LAPS DOWN
20. Dakoda Armstrong, led one lap
21. Landon Cassill
22. David Starr
FOUR LAPS DOWN
23. James Buescher, led three laps
24. Jeffrey Earnhardt
25. Eric McClure
SEVEN LAPS DOWN
26. Jamie Dick
27. John Wes Townley
EIGHT LAPS DOWN
28. Chad Boat
29. Tanner Berryhill

30. Derrike Cope, -10 laps down
31. Joey Gase, -12 laps down
32. Richard Harriman, Lap 112, Suspension
33. Josh Reaume, Lap 107, Vibration
34. Matt Dibenedetto, Lap 50, Brakes
35. Carl Long, Lap 15, Overheating
36. Sam Hornish Jr., Lap 7, Engine
37. Ryan Ellis, Lap 6, Vibration
38. Mike Harmon, Lap 6, Fuel Pump
39. Blake Koch, Lap 4, Vibration
40. Kevin Lepage, Lap 3, Electrical

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