Kenseth wins last Nationwide race, Elliott crowned youngest champ in NASCAR history, Penske takes owners title

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Matt Kenseth rallied for a green-white-checker flag victory in the final race of both the 2014 season and in the seven-year history of the Nationwide Series on Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The series will be rebranded as the Xfinity Series for 2015.

With two laps to go, shortly after Kyle Larson passed Kenseth for the lead, Josh Berry got loose and collected Brendan Gaughan in the process, just before the leaders reached the start/finish line for what would have been the white flag lap.

As a result, the scheduled 200-lap was extended six additional laps. After cleanup of debris from the wreck, Kenseth got a great restart on Larson and sailed on to his first NNS win since last season.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve won a race in anything,” Kenseth, who has not won a race in the Sprint Cup Series either this season (after winning seven last season), told ESPN afterward.

“Kyle (Larson) got around me on the second-to-last restart,” Kenseth said, “and when he chose the bottom there and I had Kyle (Busch) behind me, I knew we had a shot again, I just had to do a better job than I did the time before. Luckily, we got that last chance to redeem ourselves.”

Busch also rallied to pass Larson on the final lap of overtime to finish second, while Larson finished third, followed by Ryan Blaney and Chris Buescher.

Regan Smith was sixth, followed by Ty Dillon, Brad Keselowski, Elliott Sadler and Brian Scott.

Even with his eighth-place finish, Keselowski – filling in for teammate Joey Logano, who will battle for the Sprint Cup championship on Sunday – still ended up high enough in the finishing order to earn the NNS owner’s championship for Roger Penske.

Lastly, even though he finished 17th in the race, Chase Elliott officially accepted the last NNS championship trophy, as well, making last weekend’s clinching of the title at Phoenix International Raceway official.

It was 10 years ago that JR Motorsports opened its doors, and now it has reached the pinnacle of the NNS, with the 18-year-old Elliott becoming the youngest major series champion in NASCAR history.

“We’re very proud of Chase and the whole team,” JR Motorsports co-owner and Sprint Cup star Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “They did a great job. Everybody that has ever worked at JR Motorsports ought to be real proud to have helped us get to where we are today.”

Elliott, who had a series-high three wins and 16 top-five finishes this season, will return to JRM for next season for what will be the first year of the Xfinity Series.

“It means the world to me, not just to myself, but this is a huge accomplishment for our whole team,” Elliott said. “The last week allowed me to sit back and think of not only all the great people that made it possible this year, but there’s a lot of names, smart people and great racers that have helped me get to this point that have allowed me to stand here tonight.

“A huge thanks to all of them, they know who they are. This is a dream come true. I’d have never thought it at the beginning of the season. We’re looking forward to enjoying it as much as we can.”

Crew chief Greg Ives, who will replace Steve Letarte as Earnhardt’s crew chief in the Sprint Cup Series next season, would have liked to have seen a better finish, but there’s no denying the incredible accomplishments the entire team has done in 2014.

“The car was fast, and you can’t doubt the talent that Chase has in the car,” Ives said. “It’s kind of bittersweet, the last race of the season for Chase and we definitely wanted to run better than this.

“We tried something a little different, you can’t change it, can’t go back on it and go fight the adversity, and Chase was doing that. I’m very proud of that young man. He’s got a lot of years in front of him.”

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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