INDYCAR Photo by John Cote
INDYCAR Photo by John Cote

Rossi’s IndyCar Grand Prix over before it ever started

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INDIANAPOLIS – When it comes to “Slicing and Dicing,” Alexander Rossi is the best thing since Ron Popeil’s “Veg-O-Matic.”

The NTT IndyCar Series star is fantastic when he starts up front, but he becomes “Captain Ridiculous” when he has to start midpack or lower.

At Phoenix in 2017, Rossi suffered a variety of issues but passed his way through the field twice. Rossi passed 53 cars in the race after an early drive-through penalty for hitting one of his crew members dropped him to last place.

In last year’s 102nd Indianapolis 500, Rossi’s car had a rear tire go flat on the final lap of his four-lap qualification attempt. Instead of challenging for a starting position of 10th or 12th, he had to start 32nd in the field.

In the race, Rossi put on an incredible show. While other drivers had difficulty passing cars on a hot and slick Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Rossi was able to make brave passes and finished fourth.

After failing to advance out of the first segment in Friday’s qualifications, Rossi’s No. 27 Honda started 17th in Saturday’s IndyCar Grand Prix at the IMS road course. Fans already were excited over the prospect of watching the talented driver from Northern California “slice and dice” his way through the field around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn circuit.

Alexander Rossi was going to put on a real show.

Instead, he was out of contention moments after the green flag waved. As the 24-car starting lineup raced down the frontstraight, rookie Patricio O’Ward ran into the back of Rossi’s Honda. The impact damaged the corner of Rossi’s car, and he had to head to the pit area for repairs.

“He just smoked the back of me,” Rossi told NBC Sports as he stood on pit wall after the race. “He got a drive-through penalty for it. Unfortunately, we had to replace the right-rear corner, so we were four laps down.

“A drive-through penalty doesn’t really bring me back anything.”

INDYCAR PhotoDespite the drive-through penalty, it put O’Ward on a different pit stop strategy than many of the other drivers in the field. That allowed him to race as high as second place at one point in the 85-lap contest.

“Considering where we started and a mishap on the start, we had made up a ton of ground,” O’Ward said after finishing 19th. “Regardless of how the race ended, I think we should be very pleased with how we ran and our overall pace.

“In the end, we just made a mistake.”

Rossi would return to the race and had a fast car but was too many laps down to be a factor. So, for the next 2 1/2 hours, Rossi had to ride around on his own lap. He finished the race 22nd, four laps down to the winner, Simon Pagenaud.

“It was difficult, because that is not what we are here for,” Rossi said. “You stay in it and hope guys will fall out, and you will be able to pick up positions through attrition, which wasn’t really the case today.

“But hey, we had a fast race car for the first time all weekend. It’s unfortunate it was a day late. If we had qualified better, we wouldn’t have gotten hit at the start, and it would have been a different day.”

Because he was out of contention so early but remained in the race, Rossi had to drive a different race than what he expected.

“I had to be very respectful of guys racing for position and let them go and do their thing,” Rossi said. “When we got clean air, we pushed, and we were in the top three or four most competitive cars on the track in the wet and dry.

“Hats off to the NAPA Auto Parts/Andretti boys for staying in it. You never know what can happen; it just didn’t come back to us today.”

It could have been worse for Rossi, however. His points situation was mitigated when NTT IndyCar Series leader Josef Newgarden finished 15th after leading the second-most laps (20).

Rossi is third in points, 36 points behind Newgarden. He entered the IndyCar Grand Prix second in points, 28 behind Newgarden.

Had Newgarden’s strategy of pitting out of sequence worked, Rossi could have lost a lot more points.

Beginning Tuesday, Rossi and Newgarden will be among the 36 drivers who begin practice for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26. That race pays double points, and Rossi can quickly erase Saturday’s disappointment.

“That’s it, it’s the big one,” Rossi said. “We’ve been fast every year in the 500. We need to put our heads down this past week, make sure we dial in the car and hopefully start better than 32nd come race day. We’ll go from there and hopefully have a chance to win it.

“We are already rebounded. Today is irrelevant. We will get back to work on Tuesday.”

INDYCAR PhotoRossi’s storyline was among the many that made Saturday’s first telecast of an NTT IndyCar Series race from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on NBC a success.

The IndyCar Grand Prix Race on NBC drew a 0.85 overnight rating, standing as the highest overnight delivery for this race since 2014’s race on ABC (5/10/14; 0.89).

The 0.85 overnight rating is up 31 percent from last year’s IndyCar Grand Prix on ABC (5/12/18; 0.65).

Eli Tomac’s near-perfect season ended perfectly

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From the start, Eli Tomac wanted to go into the season-ending race at Ironman Raceway with the 2020 red plate already in his possession. That final race has been know to devolve into muddy conditions and it is best not to leave things to chance.

For a rider with an almost perfect record of overall podium finishes, one would not have thought there would be much drama at the end of Round 11 at Budds Creek, but it took until the last lap of the final moto for Tomac to achieve his goal.

One reason was that Tomac’s near-perfect season was not so perfect. From the very beginning at Hangtown, Tomac struggled with poor starts to his events. Getting a bad jump out of the gate and finishing fourth in Moto 1 that weekend was not the auspicious beginning he wanted in search of his third consecutive 450 outdoor championship.

The hallmark of Tomac’s season has been overcoming bad starts. He rode through the field at Hangtown and nearly stood on the podium. Then he won Moto 2 and finished second overall. It was his first of nine consecutive overall podiums. Tomac came back the following week for a perfect sweep at Pala.

In Round 3, Tomac once again got off to a bad start. He finished fifth in Moto 1 at Thunder Valley – and then won Moto 2 in a duplication of his opening round.

In Round 5, Tomac had his worst performance until that time. He finished seventh in Moto 1. Nearly halfway through the season, a pattern was firmly established with his Moto 2 win.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

One should recall that the hallmark of Tomac’s season was strong finishes. Four the next four weeks Tomac failed to podium only one time in a moto. On that occasion, he would stumble in Moto 2 at Spring Creek in Round 8 before scoring his second perfect race at Washougal.

And that is where it got interesting. Tomac left Washougal with a 50-point advantage over Marvin Musquin. It was just the scenario Tomac had seesawed his way through the season to achieve. But it was too good to be true.

In most of his previous bad performances, there was an extenuating circumstance for Tomac’s bad start: a fall or an off course excursion. This time, he simply rode an uninspired race and finished seventh again to match his worst single moto performance. He could not fully rebound in Moto 2 and finished third.

For the first time in 2019, Tomac failed to stand on the overall podium in fourth. Worse still, he lost 10 points to Musquin and no longer had his one-race cushion.

But this is a season of recovery for Tomac. At Budds Creek last week it was reported that Tomac’s lackluster performance in Washington was due to his overdoing his chores on his Colorado ranch. Rested and restored, Tomac scored his third perfect race with Moto 1 & 2 wins. And this time, he looked sharper than he had in any previous race.

Tomac did all the could do by winning both motos, but in the closing laps at Budds Creek he needed a little help to clinch the title. As it turned out, Tomac needed the perfect performance to clinch his third consecutive championship.

In Moto 1, he narrowly edged Ken Roczen and Musquin, to give the three championship contenders a sweep of the top three spots; that was not enough to regain his cushion.

Roczen was close enough to force Tomac into The Ironman needing to score points to permanently affix the red plate on his Kawasaki in 2020, but just as Tomac’s season has been marked by second half improvements, Roczen’s has been marred by a lack of performance in the second motos.

Musquin passed Roczen late in Moto 2 last week and could have extended the drama one more week if he could have caught second-place Jason Anderson. Musquin could not erase an 11-second deficit to the runner-up and now Tomac’s almost perfect season has a distinctly perfect feel to it.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

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