Texas Motor Speedway makes its case for IndyCar-NASCAR twin bill

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Eddie Gossage says he’s talked to IndyCar president Jay Frye about doing a weekend doubleheader with NASCAR, and “Jay’s ready to do it tomorrow.”

To no one’s surprise, the president of Texas Motor Speedway knows just the venue that should play host to such a motorsports extravaganza.

“I think we’re the logical place for a variety of reasons,” Gossage told NBCSports.com in a recent interview.

Momentum has built the past year for bringing the country’s two biggest racing series together at the same track. A Sept. 27 exhibition run at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval by NTT Series champion Josef Newgarden sparked more talk of the possibilities.

The Roval has been tossed around as a candidate along with Richmond Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, both of which play host to both series.

But so does Texas, which has been a home to IndyCar and NASCAR annually since its April 1997 grand opening. The man who has run the 1.5-mile speedway since its inception believes credit is due for longevity and loyalty during the 1996-2008 era when IndyCar split into rival series.

“Outside of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we’ve been hosting IndyCar races longer than anybody,” Gossage said. “We can talk about the joined histories of IndyCar and CART, but the fact of the matter is some tracks didn’t go IndyCar, they went CART racing for a period of time. I don’t hold anything against them, but they made a business decision not to do business with IndyCar. They did business with the other guys.

“We should be rewarded for that. For having been there through thick and thin and some really tough days with some really hard to work with folks at IndyCar if it weren’t for our love and commitment to IndyCar racing.”

Texas has been the site of 31 IndyCar races (including twice annually from 1997-2004).

Though crowds have declined since being estimated at six figures in its early years, Gossage says the track’s location in a major media market makes it deserving.

“We’ve sustained good-sized crowds,” he said. “We have a big hole to fill with so many seats. If we had the seats that some venues have, we’d be sold out. Our crowds are quite healthy for that event. And we put on really good races, particularly for IndyCar. If you’re going to showcase both, it’s a good place. This is a rare occasion of truly a win-win. It would pull up the prestige of both series events here.

“I’m more inclined to go to Texas as a NASCAR fan because I can also see an IndyCar race. If I’m an IndyCar fan, I’ll give the NASCAR race a look. I think it definitely makes both events bigger and more successful.”

Gossage said he hasn’t had serious joint discussions about the concept yet with officials from IndyCar, NASCAR and NBC Sports Group (which broadcasts both series). “I think the TV network holds the keys, not the sanctioning bodies,” Gossage said. “I think they need the prodding of the TV network to make this happen.”

Gossage said if a weekend twin bill happened at Texas, he’d be inclined to have IndyCar in its traditional Saturday night slot.

“I think it’s incumbent on the racetrack to promote them as co-headliners,” Gossage said. “So I don’t have any problem with that. We’re known for night-time IndyCar races, and Jay pointed that out and said, ‘We’d take Saturday night, (NASCAR) can take Sunday.’ Problem solved. That’s how I’d see it going.

“I’m just really glad that everyone seems open to the discussion.”

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