Jeff Gordon advances to next round of Chase with first Dover victory since 2001

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Following his crash with less than 10 laps to go last weekend at New Hampshire, there was a little bit of doubt for Jeff Gordon as he sought to advance to the Contender Round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Today at Dover, that doubt was completely and thoroughly erased.

Shortly after the race hit 100 laps to go, Gordon took the lead from Brad Keselowski on the outside at Lap 306 and went on to win the AAA 400 – his first victory at Dover International Speedway since 2001.

“I knew we could compete with the 2 car [Keselowski],” Gordon said to ESPN in Victory Lane. “The 2 was really good on short runs but we could run them down. He made us work for it there at the end…He got to me and I was really, really tight in traffic there at the end, so I didn’t know if we were gonna pull it off.”

Meanwhile, Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kasey Kahne, survived a compelling battle with Kurt Busch and A.J. Allmendinger for the 12th and final advance spot.

Kahne fell as far as four laps down at one point following a mid-race pit stop under green for a loose wheel, but managed to beat Allmendinger for the advance position by two points with a 20th-place finish.

“I had to push hard,” Kahne said. “I’m glad NASCAR just let us go and let us race for it. It was pretty interesting, but I’m glad we made it. We had to fight hard, and I think we had a Top-2 or 3 car today – just didn’t get to show it.”

Also failing to make the Chase were Greg Biffle (finished 21st) and Aric Almirola (finished 28th).

Kevin Harvick dominated the first half of the race despite developing an apparent left-front suspension issue around Lap 145. He ceded the lead to Keselowski at Lap 148, but when a caution came out for debris at Lap 175, Harvick was able to regain the lead in the pits.

He would hold it into a wave of green flag stops in which he himself pitted on Lap 249. But shortly after returning to the track, the left front tire went down on his No. 4 Chevrolet and led to a caution.

Harvick sustained left-front splitter damage as well and made multiple stops under the caution for new left-side tires and repairs. But he still stayed on the lead lap, even though he was forced to take the Lap 260 restart in 21st; he made some progress before finishing 13th.

Keselowski took over the lead thanks to Harvick’s issues and quickly ran away from second-place Kyle Busch off the restart. But Gordon would take second from “Rowdy” at Lap 274, and began to loom large in Keselowski’s rear view mirror as the run progressed.

Gordon soon caught the rear bumper of Keselowski, and then started the race-winning pass down the frontstretch before clearing Keselowski off of Turn 2.

While Gordon ruled at the front, Kurt Busch began to drop back into the lower reaches of the Top 20, allowing Kahne to take over the 12th spot on the Chase Grid despite running one lap down to the leaders at the time.

After the final green-flag stops cycled through, Gordon resumed leading and Kurt Busch found himself just one point behind Kahne for that 12th and final advance spot.

Kurt got by teammate Tony Stewart for 13th place with 49 laps left, earning back the advance position momentarily. But 12 laps later, Harvick passed him, putting Kahne one point above the cutoff again.

Gordon then put Kurt one lap down with less than 30 to go, and with 18 to go, Stewart got around Kurt for 14th. While that occurred, Kahne passed Biffle for 20th, pushing his points gap to several markers over Kurt, who eventually fell to 18th at the checkered flag.

While the Contender Round will see the points reset again to 3,000, here’s how the Challenger Round standings ended today at the Monster Mile:

1. Brad Keselowski – ADVANCED with Chicagoland win
2. Joey Logano – ADVANCED with New Hampshire win
3. Jeff Gordon – ADVANCED with Dover win
4. Kevin Harvick, +46 points over 13th place
5. Jimmie Johnson, +44 points
6. Kyle Busch, +34 points
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr., +27 points
8. Matt Kenseth, +20 points
9. Ryan Newman, +14 points
10. Carl Edwards +14 points
11. Denny Hamlin, +4 points
12. Kasey Kahne, +2 points

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT DOVER – AAA 400
Unofficial Results

1. Jeff Gordon, led 94 laps
2. Brad Keselowski, led 78 laps
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Joey Logano
5. Matt Kenseth, led 2 laps
6. Kyle Larson
7. Martin Truex Jr.
8. Ryan Newman
9. Clint Bowyer, led 1 lap
10. Kyle Busch
11. Carl Edwards, led 1 lap
12. Denny Hamlin
ONE LAP DOWN
13. Kevin Harvick, led 223 laps
14. Tony Stewart
15. Brian Vickers
16. Paul Menard
17. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
18. Kurt Busch
19. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
20. Kasey Kahne
21. Greg Biffle
TWO LAPS DOWN
22. Jamie McMurray
23. A.J. Allmendinger
24. Austin Dillon
25. Danica Patrick
26. Marcos Ambrose
THREE LAPS DOWN
27. Casey Mears
28. Aric Almirola
FIVE LAPS DOWN
29. Justin Allgaier
30. Cole Whitt
31. David Ragan
SIX LAPS DOWN
32. Reed Sorenson
SEVEN LAPS DOWN
33. David Gilliland
NINE LAPS DOWN
34. Alex Bowman
35. Landon Cassill
36. Mike Bliss

37. David Stremme, Lap 389, Running
38. Travis Kvapil, Lap 389, Running
39. J.J. Yeley, Lap 387, Running
40. Mike Wallace, Lap 384, Running
41. Michael Annett, Lap 361, Accident
42. Josh Wise, Lap 197, Suspension
43. Timmy Hill, Lap 11, 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