Chris Buescher scores 1st career Nationwide win at Mid-Ohio

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Late-race fuel issues threatened, but Chris Buescher kept going all the way to his first checkered flag in the NASCAR Nationwide Series today at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Buescher claimed the lead with 24 laps to go but still had to worry about fuel on his No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford despite getting help from a caution involving Jeff Green with 20 laps to go.

On the final lap, Regan Smith began to cut into Buescher’s lead and in the last few corners, Buescher encountered the lapped car of Tim Cowen.

With a win on the line, Buescher moved Cowen up as they went through the Carousel and then drove to a 1.1 second-win over Smith.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Buescher told ESPN. “I wasn’t sure if I was happy or disappointed [with the Green caution]. I knew we’d have a little more fuel, so that was gonna be good, but it bunched us all up there.

“But this Ford Mustang was fast and we pulled right away – actually, we were just cruising there at the end. My fuel pressure light started flashing at me. But I wasn’t about to tell [crew chief] Scott [Graves] that.”

Brian Scott finished third, followed by Nationwide Series points leader Chase Elliott in fourth, and Alex Tagliani in fifth. Scott led a race-high 39 laps, the bulk of which came in the first half of the race.

Scott and Sam Hornish Jr. battled for the lead as the race moved to the middle stages with Buescher right behind them. Then on Lap 51, Hornish suddenly went to the garage after he damaged the motor after missing a shift; he would return to the pits later, but did not come back to the race.

In a separate incident on the same lap, Kenny Habul came to a stop in the Keyhole grass to bring out the caution. Race leader Scott then led the front runners to the pits, but he was blocked in by Buescher and had to back up in order to get out of his box. That cost him several positions as Smith and Tagliani beat him out of the pits.

A group of nine drivers led by Trevor Bayne stayed out to go ahead of the previous leaders that pitted. When the green came back out at Lap 55, those previous leaders were led by Smith in 10th.

Scott suffered further issues when he and Tagliani made contact coming out of Mid-Ohio’s rhythm section, sending him off-course. On Lap 59, Scott hit the pits to have his crew clear the accumulated grass on his grille and top up the car on fuel.

With 29 to go, Bayne finally went in for service, handing the point to Brendan Gaughan (who had last pitted on Lap 41). Five laps later, Gaughan went in himself and Buescher assumed control.

Running behind Buescher in second was Green. But with 20 laps to go, Green’s throttle reportedly stuck open as he went into Turn 5 and he ran straight into the tire barriers to bring out caution No. 5. He was evaluated and later released from the infield care center.

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES AT MID-OHIO – Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200
Unofficial Results

1. 60-Chris Buescher, led 25 laps
2. 7-Regan Smith
3. 2-Brian Scott, led 39 laps
4. 9-Chase Elliott
5. 22-Alex Tagliani
6. 31-Justin Marks
7. 11-Elliott Sadler
8. 42-Dylan Kwasniewski
9. 6-Trevor Bayne, led 9 laps
10. 43-Dakoda Armstrong
11. 19-Mike Bliss
12. 16-Ryan Reed
13. 40-Matt DiBenedetto
14. 01-Landon Cassill
15. 23-Cody Ware
16. 39-Ryan Sieg
17. 17-Tanner Berryhill
ONE LAP DOWN
18. 86-Tim Cowen
19. 3-Ty Dillon
20. 62-Brendan Gaughan, led 5 laps
TWO LAPS DOWN
21. 44-Carlos Contreras
THREE LAPS DOWN
22. 51-Jeremy Clements
23. 93-Tomy Drissi
FIVE LAPS DOWN
24. 74-Bobby Reuse
SIX LAPS DOWN
25. 99-James Buescher
NINE LAPS DOWN
26. 28-J.J. Yeley
10 LAPS DOWN
27. 52-Joey Gase

28. 4-Jeffrey Earnhardt, Lap 72, Running
29. 14-Jeff Green, Lap 70, Accident
30. 54-Sam Hornish Jr., led 12 laps, Lap 51, Engine
31. 20-Kenny Habul, Lap 51, Engine
32. 70-Derrike Cope, Lap 43, Suspension
33. 87-Stanton Barrett, Lap 35, Transmission
34. 79-John Jackson, Lap 13, Electrical
35. 10-Blake Koch, Lap 12, Vibration
36. 15-Carl Long, Lap 11, Suspension
37. 55-Timmy Hill, Lap 10, Brakes
38. 46-Josh Reaume, Lap 7, Electrical
39. 77-Roger Reuse, Lap 3, Transmission

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