By David Morgan, Associate Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas – The look of disappointment was written all over Alexander Rossi’s face when he emerged from his Andretti Autosport Honda Saturday night in Texas.
Having just staged a thrilling battle with Josef Newgarden over the closing laps of the DXC Technology 600, Rossi looked to be in prime position to score his first win in the Lone Star State and break his streak of near-misses that have been haunting him in recent weeks, but had to settle for yet another runner-up finish – his third in the last four NTT IndyCar Series races.
“When you have a Penske Chevrolet driven by someone as good as Josef, there’s only so much you can do, right? Yeah, it sucks,” Rossi said. “I mean, we’re always there, but we’re always playing the bridesmaid as of late.”
Despite an 11th place start, Rossi quickly established himself as one of the drivers to beat as he and fellow Honda drivers Scott Dixon, Colton Herta, and Ryan Hunter-Reay set the pace for the majority of the race, with both Rossi and Dixon setting themselves apart as fuel mileage looked to play a major role in how the race was going to turn out.
Trading the lead back and forth between lap 175 and 187, the two battled to see which of them was going to come out on top as the strategy was falling their way for one of them to end the night in Victory Lane.
On lap 229, Herta and Dixon tangled in Turn 3, ending the night for both drivers and forcing Rossi to have to take evasive action down onto the apron to avoid the two spinning cars.
“I was lucky,” Rossi said of avoiding the Dixon/Herta incident. “We were able to get that Capstone/GESS Honda through there. Going down onto the apron at that high speed is always sketchy, but luck, I guess, from that standpoint, was on our side today.”
With Newgarden in the lead courtesy of a four-stop pit strategy that played right into his hands, Rossi had to set his sights on passing his championship rival over the closing laps of the race to finally break his runner-up streak.
Trying the high line into Turn 1 over and over again as the laps wound down, Rossi was unable to get the outside lane to stick and he had to abort the move each time in order in to keep his car intact in the run to the finish.
In the end, Newgarden’s fresher tires made all the difference as he was able to stay out front and keep his fellow American in the rear-view mirror.
“I think we had a good car, could obviously get a good run on him off of (Turns) 3 and 4,” Rossi said. “Lane two was really never there for me. We could get halfway around the outside, would have to bail out.
“Could have maybe took a bit more of risk. Yeah, it was pretty low percentage. I didn’t think a lot of guys were making it happen. Ultimately then it became about trying to beat him for the line. But we took out a lot of the tire life going in lane two there, so we just didn’t have the rear tires there at the end to stay close to him.
“That sucks. I mean, I didn’t see him up front all day. All of a sudden he appears in P1, so… Obviously they’re doing a good job. He had a fast car once he got in front.”
Sitting 25 points behind Newgarden in the season standings, Rossi and his team will have a week off to regroup before heading to Road America in two weeks time. Following Saturday’s race, Rossi noted the time off will be welcome as the team has a plan for attacking the second half of the season.
“Ultimately it wasn’t meant to be, but now we’re into the second half of the season,” he said. “There’s a lot of really strong tracks for us coming up. We’ve learned one thing from last year; We’ve just got to keep collecting points, keep being up front, and eventually we’ll get there. It’s just unfortunate that the guy we’re chasing in the championship is the one that was able to come out on top.
“We’ll reset, take a well deserved break, and come back strong at Road America.”