Much like the manner in which he won the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016, Alexander Rossi needed to utilize a big fuel-saving strategy in the final stint of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 to finish ahead of title rival Scott Dixon and gain more ground in the championship.
Rossi pitted under yellow on Lap 178 – his Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay came to a halt after suffering a fuel pressure issue, forcing the yellow – and restarted third on Lap 183. But, Rossi would need to stretch the fuel in a big way to make the finish.
With Dixon already ahead of him on the track at the time – Dixon restarted second – and passing proving difficult at Gateway Motorsports Park, Rossi and the No. 27 Napa Auto Parts Honda team decided their best shot at finishing ahead of Dixon was to go into fuel conservation mode.
In doing so, Rossi dropped back as far as eighth in the final stint as others went by, and he even dropped off the lead lap at one point, but when everyone started pitting for splashes of fuel, Rossi was able to vault back up the running order.
Although he ultimately had nothing for Will Power, who ended up taking the win, the strategy did allow Rossi to jump ahead of Dixon for second, and Dixon was unable to catch and pass him in the final laps.
“It was a huge ask when Rob (Edwards), my strategist, came over the radio and was like, ‘Make this fuel number.’ I was like ‘Here we go again,’ Rossi quipped to NBCSN’s Robin Miller afterward. “I couldn’t have done it without a great Napa Andretti Honda. I don’t know that we had enough for Will, even if it was a flat out race to the finish, but the important thing is we beat Scott and closed the gap a little bit.”
Rossi, emphasizing the challenge of conserving fuel, added, “It’s hard when everyone’s going by you. I know that theoretically they’re supposed to come back (to you), but when you’re short-shifting and lifting everywhere and just going really slow, it’s difficult to keep that. But, Rob, as always, talked me through it and made sure I was focused on the prize.”
Dixon, meanwhile, came home third after dominating the first half of the race, leading 145 laps. However, he was unable to pass Will Power after the Team Penske driver got by him on Lap 150, and cycled out behind Rossi after a late splash of fuel.
Though he finished third and led the most laps, it was still a frustrating night for Dixon.
“A bit of a bummer. I’m a little disappointed in myself,” Dixon lamented to NBCSN’s Anders Krohn. “We kind of got into no man’s land a bit on fuel saving. The team were like ‘We should go’ and I’m like ‘Are you sure?’ and Will got that big difference there.”
Dixon added, “The PNC Bank car was strong all night. The fuel that we were burning early on in the race didn’t hurt us because we had a reset (with the Hunter-Reay yellow). Just bummed. We lost only three points there, but ultimately we want to be stretching it.”
With two races remaining in the Verizon IndyCar Series season, Dixon’s lead over Rossi stands at 26 points and has been slashed since Dixon won the Honda Indy Toronto in July – he exited that weekend with a 62-point lead over then second place runner Josef Newgarden, and a 70-point lead over Rossi.
In the three races since, Rossi has used two wins and a second-place finish to cut 44 points out of the lead.