Ryan: Alexander Rossi gave us so much to talk about at Indy, it’s time to start talking about him

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INDIANAPOLIS – The most impressive American in the most American of auto races sipped through a distractingly long and coiled straw, tolerating the incessant questions about a sublime Sunday drive.

How confident was he about the spectacular array of passes he’d completed over 500 miles at the world’s most famous – and often treacherous – speedway?

“Confident enough,” Alexander Rossi said with a hint of European indifference that betrays the fact he was raised in Nevada City, California. “I mean, you never know. But the inside was blocked, so sometimes there’s not any other option.

“And I’m not going to lift, so … ”

Let’s finish that sentence in a way that Rossi never would.

“… I’m going to do things that will seem superhuman and extraordinary, particularly during a race where the most talented of my peers were spinning as if they never manhandled a car at 240 mph. I didn’t win, but today I proved it: I am The Greatest this speedway has ever seen!”

No, the Andretti Autosport driver is not Ali – and ultimately, that shouldn’t matter, anyway.

What the 26-year-old did in starting 32nd and finishing fourth at the Brickyard should stand on its own merits for being in the conversation as this country’s greatest IndyCar talent.

Will Power was the winner of the 102nd Indianapolis 500, but Rossi was the show at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In two spellbinding restarts on Lap 145 and Lap 153, his No. 27 Dallara-Honda gained roughly eight spots in about three laps by riding the outside wall, inches away from the concrete at somewhere well above 200 mph.

Rossi nearly shrugged when asked about the guts it took.

“Just opportunity, man,” he said. ‘It’s not anything to do with anything else. You try to make the most of the opportunities that are presented to you.”

These are the answers you get with Rossi and please don’t misread them as aloof.

He drives with the verve of Dale Earnhardt.

He talks with the nonchalance of Michael Schumacher.

Or any other F1 champion who views the media as a necessary nuisance that must be tolerated in between terrific exhibitions of exquisite driving. Just listen:

Is your philosophy that if a hole is wide enough for your car, you go for it?

“When you’re starting 32nd, yeah. If I was starting from third, no. It’s just a different mindset. You’ve got to expose the car. You’ve got to do some things you’re uncomfortable with and hope they work out.”

So the outside lane is your preferred lane?

“No. There’s a hole, right? You go where there’s no other cars.”

But those passes were insane.

“I don’t know what to tell you. I mean, we did the same thing at Phoenix, right? We know how to pass on ovals.”

Indeed, Rossi showed his brilliance with a third in the April 7 race at ISM Raceway, and he won the 2016 Indy 500 as a rookie in what was almost his oval debut.

His ability to acclimate clearly is exceptional, and what was striking Sunday was that he deftly controlled his car while many talented Indy veterans – Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Sebastien Bourdais, to name a few – could not.

While there was a lot of tip-toeing by others at the outset around the 2.5-mile track, Rossi aggressively pursued every patch of open pavement. He showed that the outside line could work. As the action intensified in the final 50 laps, it coincided with Rossi becoming a fixture in the top five.

“Entirely more comfortable,” he said when asked to compare his oval prowess with entering Indy two years ago from a lifetime on street and road courses. “It’s night and day different. Your ass is clenched around here quite a bit of the time. Especially with this new car. It moves around a lot. No doubt, I know what to expect and 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 cause I’ve been here two times before — now three times. Hopefully, one day we can get back into the Winner’s Circle.”

At his current rate, he could do much more than that. He is second in the points standings behind Power and just ahead of Josef Newgarden, the defending series champion and fellow Yank who has all of the charisma and charm that IndyCar wants in an American superstar.

Rossi isn’t talked about often in that way yet. But he should be.

He raced in Europe for the better part of a decade, culminating in 2015 with a brief five-race Formula One career doomed from the start because it was with a backmarker team. Rossi quickly has made up for lost time since returning to the States.

And he has shown an aptitude for being accessible and connecting with fans. He started a podcast (“Off Track”) with IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe. Last year, he and American driver Conor Daly finished fourth in “The Amazing Race” (Rossi played the straight man to Daly’s colorful personality).

As Rossi was surrounded by the largest throng of reporters in Indy’s pit lane after his amazing drive Sunday, some of his “Amazing Race” competitors were snapping photos nearby as he patiently and sometimes humorously answered every question.

Was the cockpit sweltering on a 91-degree day that was the second hottest on record in the Indy 500?

“It wasn’t too bad,” Rossi said. “You have the best A/C at 200 mph. I was never worried about that. It was more uncomfortable doing driver introductions and the group photo than it was actually driving.”

It’s fine if he also still isn’t comfortable with giving the news media the long and insightful answers that we so desperately crave (often without justification).

Many drivers start that way … and many learn to become outspoken while maintaining their cool demeanor (Scott Dixon and Kyle Larson come to mind.)

Rossi saved one of his longest answers for a question about whether it was any consolation that he made many new fans Sunday even without a victory.

“I want to win,” he said. “That’s what I work for every day and dream of every day, and now I have 365 days to start thinking about the 103rd running. I’m very happy for Will. I know he’s been wanting this a long time, and that’s very cool. He’s well deserved.

“But yeah. I don’t think that’s going to be consolation. I’m here to win.”

If he keeps delivering more days like Sunday, we’ll be here to watch.

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Motocross season opener: Jett Lawrence rockets to the top

SuperMotocross Rankings season opener
Align Media

As the SuperMotocross season heads outdoors, the NBC Power Rankings change significantly with results from the Motocross opener at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. The Power Rankings assign a numeric value to each individual moto (90 points maximum) as well as the overall standings (100 points) and averages that number over the past 45 days. Included in the Power Rankings are results from the final five Supercross rounds, which fit into that 45-day timeframe.

Dylan Ferrandis finished on the podium in his first race back after experience a concussion in Supercross Round 4 at Houston. – Align Media

It didn’t take long for Jett Lawrence to rocket to the top of the SuperMotocross rankings – only about 74 minutes in fact. Lawrence dominated his first moto and beat his teammate Chase Sexton, the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross champion, to the line by 10 seconds. He had to fight a little harder for the second moto win as Sexton stalked him throughout the race and ended up less than a second behind.

Beginning this week, we have added the SuperMotocross points’ ranking beside the rider’s name and in one fell swoop, Lawrence went from being unranked in the 450 class to 26th. To qualify for the inaugural SuperMotocross’ guaranteed 20 positions that automatically make the gate for the three-race championship series, Lawrence needs to be inside the top 20 in combined Supercross and Motocross points. The bubble is currently held by Justin Starling and Lawrence needs to make up 44 points to overtake him.

Sexton’s second-place finish in the overall standings at Fox Raceway marked his ninth consecutive top-five finish. After the race, Sexton compared the battle he had with Lawrence to the one he experienced with Eli Tomac in last year’s Pro Motocross championship. These two riders had a significant advantage over the field in Pala, but there is still a lot of racing to be completed.

MORE: Jett Lawrence wastes no time, wins first 450 race

After missing 13 rounds to a concussion, Dylan Ferrandis told NBC Sports that he was not going to do anything risky in the season opener at Fox Raceway. If he dialed back his effort at all, one would be hard-pressed to notice. He finished third in both motos and was third in the overall standings. Ferrandis began the weekend just outside the top 20 in combined SuperMotocross points and climbed to 19th. In the next few weeks, he will get a little more breathing room over the cutline and then challenge for wins.

Adam Cianciarulo’s three-race streak of top-five finishes ended with a sixth-place overall at Fox Raceway, but that was enough to advance him one position in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings and land him eighth in the combined points standings. His individual motos were moderate, but Cianciarulo is still battling the effects of injury and a nagging loss of strength in his wrist.

Aaron Plessinger returned from injury in the Supercross season finale to finish second at Salt Lake City. He added another top-five to his season total and now has six of those in the 13 rounds he’s made. With Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac not currently racing in Motocross, Plessinger has an opportunity to rise to the third seeding in short order.

450 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Jett Lawrence (26) 93.33 NA
2. Chase Sexton (1) 92.36 1 -1
3. Dylan Ferrandis (19) 89.00 NA
4. Adam Cianciarulo (8) 82.89 5 1
5. Aaron Plessinger (5) 81.20 9 4
6. Justin Hill (9)
Not racing MX
79.75 8 2
7. Ken Roczen (4)
injured | Not racing MX
79.13 3 -4
8. Jose Butron (30) 75.67 NA
9. Lorenzo Locurcio (29) 75.00 NA
10. Eli Tomac (2)
74.50 2 -8
11. Dean Wilson (10)
Not racing MX
72.88 7 -4
12. Cooper Webb (3) 71.17 6 -6
13. Jerry Robin (32) 70.33 NA
14. Justin Barcia (6)
70.00 4 -10
15. Kyle Chisholm (15) 65.36 11 -4
16. Dante Oliveira (36) 65.00 NA
17. Shane McElrath (11)
Not racing MX
63.63 12 -5
18. Ryan Surratt (38) 63.33 NA
19. Josh Hill (13)
Not racing MX
62.38 13 -6
20. Justin Starling (20)
Not racing MX
62.13 19 -1

Motocross 450 Points

A bad start to Moto 1 at Fox Raceway was not enough to deter Hunter Lawrence. Neither was the fact that he was riding with sore ribs after experiencing a practice crash earlier in the week. He was a distant 10th to start the first race and for most of the 30 minutes, it seemed he would finish off the podium. Lawrence did not win the 250 East Supercross championship by giving in to hopelessness or pain, however.

Lawrence picked off one rider and then another until he found the battle for the top five in front of him at the halfway point. Once the field started to lap riders, Lawrence used the opportunity to continue forward through the grid. He passed third-place Jo Shimoda with two laps remaining and challenged Maximus Vohland for second on the final trip around Fox Raceway, but had to settle for the final spot on the podium. Lawrence dominated Moto 2 and claimed the overall victory in Pala.

Justin Cooper made his first start of the season at Fox Raceway and earned enough NBC Power Average points to climb to second. Partly this was due to consistently strong runs in both motos and a 5-4 that gave him the fifth position overall, but he is also not weighed down with moderate Supercross results. It will take a week or two to see where his strength lands him on the grid.

Motocross 250 Points

In only his third Pro Motocross National, Haiden Deegan scored a second-place finish in the overall standings. – Align Media

RJ Hampshire may feel he has something to prove after finishing second to Jett Lawrence in the 250 SX West division. He certainly rode like that was the case in Moto 1 and easily outpaced the field on his way to victory lane. In Moto 2, he crashed twice on Lap 1 and dropped back to 39th. It took half of the race to get inside the top 20 and salvage points. By the end of the race, he was 11th and while that was enough to get him on the overall podium, it cost him points in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

Haiden Deegan surprised the field in Houston in his 250 Supercross debut by finishing fifth. At the time, he said his strong result was because there were no expectations. He echoed that statement after the Motocross season opener. His second-place finish in the overall standings was enough to project him five positions up the SuperMotocross Rankings. In 11 rounds in the combined series, Deegan has earned seven top-fives and a worst finish of eighth.

Jo Shimoda did not make his first Supercross race of 2023 until late in the season. He finished fourth on the hybrid track of Atlanta, which had some similar elements to Fox Raceway. His fourth-place finish in Moto 1 of the Motocross opener made it seem likely he would score an overall podium, but a sixth in the second race cost him points in the NBC Power Rankings in a field that promises to be extremely tight.

250 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Hunter Lawrence (1) 89.56 2 1
2. Justin Cooper (42) 84.67 NA
3. RJ Hampshire (3) 83.67 3 0
3. Haiden Deegan (4) 83.67 8 5
5. Jo Shimoda (16) 82.33 7 2
6. Guillem Farres (46) 79.33 NA
7. Levi Kitchen (6) 79.11 5 -2
8. Max Anstie (5) 77.83 12 4
9. Max Vohland (8) 77.50 14 5
10. Enzo Lopes (10) 76.00 11 1
11. Mitchell Oldenburg (13) 74.25 16 5
12. Carson Mumford (19) 71.22 17 5
13. Jordon Smith (7) 70.56 9 -4
14. Ryder DiFrancesco (48) 70.33 NA
15. Chris Blose (12) 67.00 13 -2
16. Chance Hymas (27) 66.00 19 3
17. Tom Vialle (9) 65.78 18 1
18. Jett Reynolds (55) 63.33 NA
19. Michael Mosiman (28) 62.33 20 1
20. Garrett Marchbanks (64) 59.00 NA

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner in Supercross and overall winner in Motocross. It awards 90 points for each Moto, Heat and Triple Crown win. The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 13 AT ATLANTA: Justin Barcia leapfrogs the Big 3
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 11 AT SEATTLE: Cooper Webb, Eli Tomac overtake Chase Sexton
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 10 AT DETROIT: Chase Sexton narrowly leads Webb
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 8 AT DAYTONA: Chase Sexton unseats Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 7 AT ARLINGTON: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6 AT OAKLAND: Perfect night keeps Eli Tomac first
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 5 AT TAMPA: Chase Sexton, Cooper Webb close in
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 4 AT HOUSTON: Eli Tomac rebounds from A2 crash, retakes lead
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage