What will NASCAR fans do now that their favorite drivers are eliminated from Chase?

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If you’re a hardcore NASCAR fan, even if your favorite driver won’t advance to the third or fourth and final round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, there has to be one question burning in your mind regardless:

Now what?

Contrary to what many may have thought, Sunday’s race at Talladega arguably wasn’t the biggest test of the new Chase format at all.

Rather, how the four remaining Chase races play out will be the true benchmark if NASCAR’s new-fangled elimination playoff ultimately plays with the fans as the sanctioning body hoped it would.

Will fans of Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne – who accounted for eight wins in the first 32 races – return in front of their TVs or attend in-person the four remaining races in the same fashion as they would have if their favorite drivers were still in the Chase?

Or will the high expectations going into the Chase result in a flop of seismic proportions, with potentially record-low attendance numbers and TV ratings?

After all, even though your favorite now-eliminated driver will be racing in the last four races, realistically, even if he wins a race or two, will it really matter in the whole big scheme of things?

No matter how much fans hope and pray, the highest Johnson, Earnhardt, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Kahne, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola and Greg Biffle can finish this season is fifth place.

If I’m a Johnson fan who was anticipating him tying the championships won record of Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt this season, really, what do I have to look forward to now?

That JJ will finish fifth for the third time in his career?

Or if you’re a diehard Junior fan, will there be anything left in your personal cheering gas tank? Not only did Earnhardt fall short of advancing into the Eliminator Round, Steve Letarte will leave the team at season’s end without ever earning a championship as a Sprint Cup crew chief.

(Letarte will be joining NBC Sports next season as an analyst for its NASCAR coverage.)

Kahne gave it a great try and had the potential to be a Cinderella story, but he fell short.

Ditto Kyle Busch, whose haters must be jumping for joy right now that – once again – he’ll fail to win a championship.

Yep, doesn’t seem like there’s much to cheer about or look forward to at all.

You could not be more wrong.

In fact, there’s plenty to cheer for and to remain engaged in the four upcoming races.

What about the potential that a driver who has yet to win a race in 2014 – and there are two right now (Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman) – goes on to win the championship without ever reaching Victory Lane?

What about underdogs like Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards, who’ve essentially both been flying well under the radar? They have the chance to right some past wrongs.

Hamlin can avenge the 2010 season, when it looked like he’d win it all, only to essentially fall apart in the last three races, allowing Johnson to go on and win his then-fifth championship.

Edwards can essentially have a do-over of 2011, when he tied Tony Stewart for the Sprint Cup championship, only to lose by one point on the first tiebreaker (most wins in the season).

Who knows, maybe a non-Chaser will get his chance to shine in the sun. Will Tony Stewart be able to extend his streak of having earned at least one win in each of his 15 Sprint Cup seasons?

What about dark horses like David Gilliland, David Ragan, Martin Truex Jr., Casey Mears and so many others? Don’t they deserve their time in the spotlight?

And just because JJ, Jr. and company won’t be able to hoist the championship trophy at Homestead, how can you – if you’re truly the diehard NASCAR fan you claim to be – not be interested in how the Chase winds up and who emerges as the champ?

Can you look yourself in the mirror and say you don’t care if Brad Keselowski can win his second crown in three years? Can you say you could care less if Joey Logano or Kevin Harvick wins their first?

And can you REALLY say you wouldn’t give a darn if Jeff Gordon, after 13 years of trying, finally wins his fifth Sprint Cup championship.

Sure, your favorite driver may not have a chance to win the title this year, but if you’re really, TRULY a NASCAR fan, you owe it to yourself – and yes, even to your favorite driver, even if he’s been eliminated – to pay attention to how the next four weeks play out.

Because if you don’t, you’re going to miss a heck of a lot still to come in these last four races, not to mention one hell of a championship battle to the end.

30 Seconds to Know: How does the Chase Eliminator round work?

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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