Photo: Chris Owens/ASP Inc.

Alexander Rossi on Back Row of Indy 500

By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Alexander Rossi will start the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 after a rough outing during Sunday’s qualifications at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The run came as a shock since the Californian qualified 0.0342 of a second outside the Fast Nine during Saturday’s Bump Day of qualifications.

The 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion’s speed of 227.454 would have put him on the fourth row of the grid had he maintained it. However, subsequent laps of 226.608 mph, 224.152 mph and 221.619 mph dropped his four lap average to 224.935 mph, putting him ahead of fellow Amazing Race teammate Conor Daly’s 224.429 mph average.

Speaking just after getting out of the car, it was a perplexing problem for the driver of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda.

“I don’t know, just it was probably the most terrifying four laps I’ve done,” said Rossi. “It was everything, it was a fundamental thing, it’s impossible to diagnose exactly what happened but from halfway through Lap 1 it became about just bringing the car back and thank God we weren’t under threat to be in the race. I knew we were going to be toward the back so it’s the way it goes sometimes and thankfully it didn’t happen yesterday.”

Rossi’s last row starting position did take some pressure off because he can’t fall back much further than 32nd.

“We know we have a fast race car,” the Long Beach winner said. “We didn’t obviously qualify there on performance, missing the Fast Nine by a couple of hundredths yesterday so we’ll work tomorrow on our final real race run in practice to fine tune what we have and have a lot of fun here in a week, hopefully pass a lot of cars.

“It’s hard to pass when two cars are in front of you, it’s near-on impossible. So, I don’t think it’ll be any harder with 31 cars in front of me so it’ll pretty much be the same from third to 33rd in my mind so I have just as much of an opportunity as they do.”

Rossi’s best chance for moving up early will be from profiting off of any chaos happening in front of him.

“I will have the best view in the world,” said Rossi. “I don’t really have a mindset or strategy, I have a lot of guys who have a lot of races here sometimes start at the front, sometimes start at the back in terms of my team.”

Race day will be difficult for Rossi. The farthest back any winner has started was 28th in 1911 (Ray Harroun) and 1936 (Louis Meyer). From 32nd, Jim Rathmann finished second in 1957, Mario Andretti finished second in 1981 and Gary Bettenhausen finished third in 1980.

On a lighter note, the reduced championship implications from qualifying in the Fast Nine gave the current championship runner-up Rossi a bit of a smile.

“Let me tell you, I hope the front row consists of Ed (Carpenter), Helio (Castroneves) and Danica (Patrick) because they’re not full time and that would really help my championship cause!”

Rossi got part of his wish as Carpenter qualified on pole, Simon Pagenaud (12th in points) qualified second while Will Power (seventh in points) qualified third.

Rossi’s Andretti Autosport teammates qualified 12th (Marco Andretti), 14th (Ryan Hunter-Reay), 21st (Carlos Munoz), 23rd (Stefan Wilson) and 25th (Zach Veach).

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.