Ryan: Was Long Beach an Amazing Race? Well, it had Alexander Rossi

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – Zipping around a 1.96-mile course that has validated the greatest that IndyCar has to offer, it might have seemed Alexander Rossi had time to soak up a picturesque Sunday.

Ahh, the sights and sounds of a sun-splashed day at the beach that also just happened to include a 20-second romp to victory in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Must have fun to absorb all that, right?

“I mean, no, (not) in the race car,” Rossi said with a tiny smile after winning his second consecutive Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

OK, so he might have been a little preoccupied.

Rossi, a former “Amazing Race” contestant who can respect the need to deliver an entertaining show, still wanted the fans to enjoy themselves, which he was pleased to see happening during his pickup ride around the streets of Southern California in driver introductions.

“It was amazing to see the kind of crowd reaction and the fan turnout,” he said. “Everyone looked like and sounded like they were having a really good time. (Runner-up) Josef (Newgarden) said, who knows if this is true, ‘I was looking around during the race, and no one left. They must have enjoyed it.’

“Good for him. I was not spectating on the spectators.”

If they had the right idea, those spectators (and viewers) hopefully were spectating on the guy wheeling the No. 27 Honda, which effortlessly floated through the corners with perfection for more than 90 minutes despite breakneck speeds and little margin for error.

If there was disappointment with the action on track, it wasn’t evident from the Long Beach crowd, which lingered en masse for the rest of the afternoon.

But there were some who seemed unhappy with a race that featured a single yellow flag for three laps.

A question was asked in the postrace news conference about what might add “pizazz” to the Grand Prix. And a check of IndyCar Twitter also revealed some suggestions on how to make the race “better.”

Tire degradation!

The race length!

Stages! (Uh. Wut?)

Here’s another idea: Appreciate the greatness of a budding superstar who might be remembered in the same breath as the last guy who whipped the field so thoroughly at Long Beach.

In 1995, it was Al Unser Jr. who won by more than 23 seconds in the last of his six LBGP victories that crowned the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner as “The King of the Beach.”

Among the multiple winners at Long Beach: Unser. Mario Andretti. Will Power. Alex Zanardi.

And now the Nevada City, California, native who turns his sights to another marquee event next month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Rossi, 27, already has his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy with a 2016 Indianapolis 500 win, but he probably should have gotten another sterling silver headshot for a starring role in last year’s race (despite finishing fourth).

Stephen King/IndyCar

The Indy 500 turns drivers into household names, but having a 22-inch bronze medallion on the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame has its iconic appeal, too.

“Very similar to the 500,” Rossi said. “You’re next to legendary names in the sport. That’s special in and of itself. When you’re in the moment and you’re just here to try and maximize what you can do, you don’t really think about the history of it.

“If you ask me that question in a couple of weeks, next year, it probably will have more magnitude.”

Thankfully, we have another multiple-time winner at Long Beach who can provide instant perspective.

Car owner Michael Andretti said just as amazing as Rossi’s victory was the Herculean lap Saturday that put him on pole position by nearly 0.3 seconds over five-time series champion Scott Dixon.

“What he’s done the last couple years is pretty amazing,” Andretti said of Rossi. “It’s really difficult to even get a 10th of a second advantage at this track. That’s why when he put that three 10ths on Scott, I was like, ‘Wow, that was a big lap.’ He’s special.”

And humble even though the thumping he delivered Sunday occurred during a competitive renaissance in the NTT IndyCar Series in which the first four winners of 2019 have come from four different teams.

“You just got to stay in the zone and stay focused,” Rossi said about leading 80 of 85 laps and managing a big lead (with a heavy heart after learning that morning of grandfather Donald Russell’s death). “A lot of mistakes actually happen when you try to go slower. You’re so used to driving at 10/10ths, you stay in that rhythm.

“You cherish those days where you can just kind of go out there, not have too much stress. They’re hard to come by. Probably happens once every couple of years. I love (this win). I definitely won’t get used to it, though. It’s certainly not something that is going to happen week in, week out.”

But we could see it happening more regularly for Rossi, which is why the sixth win of his career should be viewed as an entry point for witnessing his brilliance and not the exit point for “fixing” street course racing.

If you were watching Long Beach because you wanted to see nonstop dicing and passing for the lead, we’ve got nothing for you.

If you were watching because you wanted to witness the emerging greatness of someone who could be remembered as a generational talent … well, we got Alexander Rossi.

Maybe that’s enough?

Rossi remains ‘The Story’ in IndyCar in 2019

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”