By Josh Farmer, Contributing Journalist
MADISON, Illinois – A late fuel gamble in Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 allowed Alexander Rossi to close the championship fight with Scott Dixon to 26 points.
The driver of the No. 27 Napa Auto Parts Honda finished second behind Will Power by going 71 laps on his final tank of Sunoco E85 fuel. Having won the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on fuel strategy, Rossi is no stranger to making fuel gambles work. While he didn’t pull off the win, he found a silver lining in the result.
“It was difficult to achieve what we were trying to achieve, but the 27 NAPA guys have definitely done this before,” he said. “It wasn’t our first rodeo, and I had confidence in the guys on the pit stand who were giving me good numbers and (be) patient with it. At the end of the day, you’re relieved that it works out because it’s always on your mind what would happen if it didn’t, but we’re going to have to be pretty aggressive, so I wasn’t going to be upset.”
The 26-year-old Californian started Saturday’s 248 lap event in second place and ran inside the top five for much of the race’s opening stints as Will Power and Scott Dixon dominated. The night was not entirely uneventful as he had a major moment on Lap 146.
While fighting for second with Power, Rossi nearly lost control out of Turn 2. He kept the car off the wall and soldiered on.
“I said a lot of bad words,” he joked. “It was one of those ones where I had pretty much given up, and it just came back really probably by the grace of God because I was on the brakes and ready to hit the wall, so it just kind of corrected itself, and that was a pretty big blessing I got there.”
A yellow flag flew on Lap 173 for Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay stalling on the backstretch. The caution forced many of the drivers off a three-stop strategy as the leaders made their pit stops on Lap 177. Ambitious as ever, Rossi and race strategist Rob Edwards elected to gamble on fuel.
Rossi fell as low as seventh as he hit the necessary fuel numbers to make it to the end as the remainder of his rivals pitted. Power emerged as the leader as Rossi moved into second.
Rossi took pleasure in finishing second considering the work that he put into it.
“Just a great car and great team and great group of people talking me through it because it’s a mental game,” he said. “It’s a mental game because you’re trying to obviously hit a fuel number to go X amount of laps, and it was a very, very big fuel number, and unlike the 500 in 2016, I didn’t have a teammate to tote me around, so I had to figure out how to do it myself, which was a big challenge.”
He added that not winning the race was disappointing, but his focus is on the bigger picture – winning the championship.
“I’d rather honestly finish second going down swinging and trying to win the championship than finish second and just trying to accept that,” he said.
“It was just enough at the end. Obviously, you want to win the race, but the goal really is to beat Scott, and we were able to do that, despite it only be a couple-point swing. We’ll take that and we’ll refocus and reenter ahead of Portland.”