By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — After a punctured tire relegated Alexander Rossi to a 32nd place starting position in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, Rossi clawed his way through the field and finished fourth in a performance that brought the crowd to its feet.
Rossi was 28th after the opening lap and climbed to 23rd before the opening round of pit stops. Restarts then became critical as the Californian gained 11 positions from Lap 54 to Lap 77.
However, Rossi’s best performance was on Lap 145 where he passed Scott Dixon, Sage Karam and Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti for position and the lapped cars of Spencer Pigot and Max Chilton, all before getting to the backstretch. Half a lap later, Helio Castroneves spun in front of Rossi coming out of Turn 4, necessitating some avoiding maneuvers.
On the next restart, Rossi went from fifth to third on Lap 153 with another move around teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud that required a change of direction after experiencing some tight quarters.
Starting to challenge Hunter-Reay on the inside of Turn 1, the No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda went to the outside to get around Hunter-Reay and then Rossi made another pass around Pagenaud’s outside in Turn 2. Rossi saw what was available and went for it.
“Your teammate, you always know will leave you that little bit extra,” said Rossi. “Ryan and I have a lot of respect for each other, we work so closely every single week. I have nothing but positive things to say about him and all my teammates so he’s going to race me hard and I expect him to, but at the end of the day, I know that he’ll give me room.
“[Restarts] were fun until I got to like the top five, then it was stressful. But yeah, it was a great race. Disappointed still because you always will think about the what-ifs, what if we started tenth, would that have changed something, maybe, maybe not but at the end of the day it was a good championship day.”
Rossi led Lap 173 before pitting for the final time on the next lap. After falling to 12th, Rossi would work his way up to seventh before the final yellow flag on Lap 189. Seventh became fourth after three cars on an alternate strategy pitted within the last five laps. Though the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner did not pass any more cars, there was one positive takeaway.
“We finished in front of Josef so that’s good,” said Rossi. “We’ve got a weekend that’s worth as much points-wise coming up here in five days so we’ll prepare for that.”
With the introduction of the new universal aero kits for 2018, the 500 was their first superspeedway test and Rossi figured out how hard he could push the car compared to other drivers that lost control and spun.
“Your ass is clenched around here quite a bit of the time, especially with this new car,” said Rossi. “It moves around a lot but no doubt, like I knew what to expect, I knew how to handle things, I know mentally how the race works so I guess from that standpoint there’s not the anxiety or nervousness going into it just because I’ve been here two times before, now three times and you know hopefully we can get back into the winner circle.”
Rossi sits two points behind championship leader Will Power. The Chevrolet Dual in Detroit has a race on Saturday June 2nd and Sunday June 3rd on Belle Isle.