Kevin Harvick outsmarts Kyle Busch, earns third career NNS win at Chicagoland Speedway

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JOLIET, Ill. – What looked like yet another almost certain Kyle Busch win on Saturday literally went up in smoke, as Kevin Harvick rallied to earn his third career Nationwide Series victory at Chicagoland Speedway.

It was a fitting win for Harvick, as the race was sponsored by one of his primary sponsors, the Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast 300.

“To win the Freaky Fast 300 with all the Jimmy John’s people that were here is pretty cool,” said Harvick, who led 43 laps, including the last 39 of the race.

It was the fifth time overall that Harvick has won at Chicagoland Speedway in his career, having also captured the first two Sprint Cup races held at the 1.5-mile track in suburban Chicago.

It was Harvick’s 44th career win in the Nationwide Series, his fourth win and 13th top-10 NNS finish this season and the ninth overall win for JR Motorsports in the NNS this season.

“Having (crew chief Ernie Cope) and Kevin as part of the fold, they’ve won a lot of races this year and have helped the speed on the cars,” team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “They’re a big part of the reason why the program has been able to make that big step. … Kevin has three more races this year and he’s chomping at the bit to get three more wins.”

Kyle Busch dominated the first three-quarters of the race, leading 141 laps. But when the yellow caution flag came out on Lap 153 due to Jeremy Clements’ engine failure, Busch opted to go with four tires vs. two by Harvick, and dropped from first to 16th by the time the race restarted on Lap 160. Harvick, meanwhile, regained the lead one lap after the race restarted and never looked back, with a 2.108-second margin of victory.

“We were either going to stay out or get two (tires),” Cope said. “We were going to make the 54 (Busch) come get us.”

Added Busch, “I had a really fast car and we knew we had to come down and get tires, but obviously four was the wrong call and put us behind. I fought my butt off to try to get back, but the best I could do was third.”

Kyle Larson finished second, while Ryan Blaney was fourth and Trevor Bayne was fifth.

Elliott Sadler was sixth, followed by Ty Dillon, Regan Smith, polesitter Brian Scott and points leader Chase Elliott.

Elliott now leads Smith in the NNS standings by 18 points. Dillon is in third-place, 40 points back, followed by Sadler (-51) and Scott (-56).

Getting back to the rest of the finishing field in Saturday’s race, Paul Menard finished 11th, followed by Chris Buescher, Brendan Gaughan, Aric Almirola, Daniel Suarez, Landon Cassill, Dylan Kwasniewski, James Buescher, Ross Chastain and Mike Bliss.

Ryan Sieg was 21st, followed by Dakoda Armstrong, Brennan Newberry, Ryan Reed, J.J. Yeley, Eric McClure, Matt Dibenedetto, Will Kimmel, Cody Ware and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Wrapping up the final 10 finishers were Kevin Swindell, Denny Hamlin, Jeremy Clements, Tanner Berryhill, Joey Gase, Derrike Cope, Josh Reaume, Martin Roy, Ryan Ellis and Blake Koch.

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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