By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
Marco Andretti enjoyed a quiet and solid fifth-place finish in Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma.
The 31-year-old Pennsylvanian remained under the radar for much of the 85-lap contest as his Andretti Autosport teammates drew much of the attention with Ryan Hunter-Reay taking the victory, and Alexander Rossi battling for a championship. That combination allowed Andretti to quietly parlay a fourth-place start on the grid into his second top five finish of the year.
After participating in his first Firestone Fast Six during Saturday’s qualifying, Andretti had a collision at the start of Sunday’s race with Rossi, who fell behind early after he had front wing damage and needed to pit.
For Andretti, the third-generation driver executed a three-stop strategy and only fell out of the top five briefly after each stop. When the 2006 Sonoma winner came out of the pits after his last stop on Lap 61, he allowed Rossi to go by in order to further his fight towards a championship, but title rival (and eventual champion) Scott Dixon was already past Rossi and in fact was pulling away.
Rossi allowed Andretti by again when it was clear that the No. 98 U.S. Concrete Honda was faster than the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda. Andretti would remain in fifth-place during the last 11 laps of the race, scoring his first top five finish since the first race of the Detroit doubleheader back in June.
Overall, the result was enough for Andretti to finish ninth in the championship standings, his best result since 2015.
“I’m very pleased to be this quick on a road course here,” Andretti said. “Not a bad finish for the last race at Sonoma, I would’ve liked it to have gone a bit better. I think if we went with (Firestone) reds early on I think we could have kept (Simon) Pagenaud behind us.
“Rossi was amazingly quick and we tried to make it easy on him out of the pits and give him a shot. It was pretty cool of them, they knew I gave them the position, and they gave it back there at the end, so we were able to come out with a top five. Congrats to Ryan for closing out the year with a win. We’re ready for 2019.”