By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
INDIANAPOLIS – Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Alexander Rossi gambled and saved just enough fuel to capture one of the most improbable victories in Indianapolis 500 history.
The 24-year-old started 11th and showed flashes of pace while fluctuating in and around the top 10 for most of the afternoon.
Josef Newgarden, Tony Kanaan and Carlos Munoz were all players late in the running, but with a green flag run that extended just beyond their reach, it brought different players to the game.
Rossi restarted ninth on lap 167, focusing more on fuel instead of pace. As each contender dove for pit lane in the closing laps, the California native dropped the speed of his No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda.
With Rossi nearly a half a track ahead of a hard-charging Munoz, the rookie slowed in Turn 3 but held on for beat his Andretti Autosport teammate by 4.4975 seconds.
Prior to his debut at the Brickyard, Rossi had only recorded a previous best of 10th in his five career series starts.
The ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ wasn’t kind to its defending champion, Juan Pablo Montoya. The Columbian’s No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet broke loose in Turn 2 before making heavy impact with the outside wall, ending any hopes of going back-to-back.
“People in race cars do a lot of dumb thing and we were being really careful,” Montoya said. “So I started making up some ground again and the car was actually pretty good. It was really sloppy, but it felt okay. I went into (Turn) 2 with a big push and when I got on the gas, it just came around. The hit is no big deal and not that bad actually.
“When the clouds came over the track my car came to life and that’s what we were hoping for. I don’t know. It’s just disappointing. Our Verizon Chevy was really good. Just a tough day.”
Overall, the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 provided an unbelievable win that even surprised its victor.
“I have no idea how we pulled that off,” Rossi said. We struggled a little bit in the pit stops but Bryan (Herta) came up with an unbelievable strategy. The NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda was fast in the beginning. I can’t believe we’ve done this.
“I didn’t know (if I could make it to the finish). Ryan (Hunte-Reay) was unbelievable in helping me get to the finish. He was giving me a tow at the end and it’s an amazing result for Andretti Autosport. I am just so thankful to do this on the 100th running.
“I will cherish the fact that at one point we were 33rd and that we rolled the dice and we came through and we made it happen. It’s phenomenal.
“I’m at a loss for words but it will change my life, for sure. I don’t even know where to begin. In February I wasn’t even thinking about IndyCar, and now we’ve just won the Indy 500 and thanks to an amazing group of people who gave me an opportunity to come here this year.
“(I was) relatively unknown in American junior formula and they gave me the shot. I have to thank Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta for giving me such a wonderful race car all month.”
The historic win catapults Rossi to sixth in the championship standings, just 21 points out of third.