Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo

Alexander Rossi deals with another second-place finish to Team Penske

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FORT WORTH, Texas – One of the most determined and aggressive drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series, Alexander Rossi doesn’t like finishing in second place. But in three of the last four races, Rossi has finished second, all three times to drivers from Team Penske.

It began in the 103rdIndianapolis 500 when he was locked in an incredible duel with Simon Pagenaud over the final 14 laps of the race. He made what seemed the race-winning pass going into Turn 1 with two laps to go, but by the time the two drivers made it to Turn 3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pagenaud made the race-winning pass going into that corner.

A week ago Saturday in the first race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, Rossi finished second to another Team Penske driver, NTT IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden.

In the closing laps of Saturday night’s DXC Technology at Texas Motor Speedway, Newgarden used a brilliant pit strategy by pitting under yellow on his next-to-last stop to top off with fuel and get on fresh Firestone tires. Despite losing track position, Newgarden was able to run 8-10 mph faster than any driver on the track, and that allowed him to be in position for a short pit stop on his final stop.

The team short-filled Newgarden’s Chevrolet, and by the time the final round of pit stops cycled through, Newgarden was in the lead on Lap 203 of the 248-lap race.

In order to get to the checkered flag first, however, he would need to fend off a challenge from Rossi’s Honda.

Several times, Rossi tried to go to the outside of Newgarden’s Chevrolet entering Turn 1. Each time, Rossi had to back off because the outside lane was too slippery to complete the pass.

As Rossi stood on pit road after finishing second by 0.8164 seconds, Newgarden was in Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway with fire flaming into the air and the winner firing off a pair of the “Six Shooters” that are awarded to drivers that win at Texas Motor Speedway.

As Newgarden celebrated, Rossi somberly explained the end of the race.

“The second lane never came in,” Rossi said. “It’s disappointing because, he was really nowhere all night. They called a great race and he had a fast car. Once he got track position, there wasn’t much I could do. I could get halfway around him in Turn 1, but then the front of the car would take off and I couldn’t complete the pass.

“He drove it as he should. He covered the outside and there wasn’t much I could do. It was close in the Colton Herta-Scott Dixon incident (crash on Lap 229) and I was lucky to get through that. Going down to the apron at high speed is always sketchy. Luck was on our side today, we were able to come through and get second-place, but it’s still disappointing. Without that yellow, Scott Dixon and I were looking good on fuel.

“We learned one thing from last year – you have to keep collecting points and eventually we will get there. But what is disappointing is the guy we are chasing in the championship is the one that came out on top.”

Rossi believes his No. 27 Honda worked best when he was able to get a run on Newgarden off Turns 3 and 4. But the racing groove in Turn 1 where a driver could make his car stick was about a lane-and-a-half.

“I tried it like six times, and it never worked, so I doubt it would have worked if I tried another three or four times,” Rossi said. “Maybe I could have taken a bit more of risk, but 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 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.”

Rossi has been in prime position to win three of the last four races. Instead, he has been beaten each time by a driver from Team Penske – once to Pagenaud and twice to Newgarden.

“When you have a Penske Chevrolet driven by someone as good as Josef, there’s only so much you can do, right?” Rossi responded. “Yeah, it sucks.

“We’re always there, but we’re always playing the bridesmaid as of late.”

Donny Schatz edges Kyle Larson for Outlaws victory at Lake Ozark

Trent Gower/World of Outlaws
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Donny Schatz made a last-lap pass on Kyle Larson, snatching a World of Outlaws victory Saturday night at Lake Ozark Speedway.

Larson started on the pole, led 30 of 35 laps and was in control until a caution set up a two-lap shootout to the finish before a limited crowd in Eldon, Missouri.

Schatz and Larson traded the lead twice over the final two laps, but the 10-time champion emerged with his first victory since the NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series returned in mid-May from a two-month layoff because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

‘THEY’VE STUCK BEHIND ME’: Kyle Larson comments on future, Outlaws plans

“Man, I don’t know what to say, but Kyle’s a damn good racer,” Schatz, who led five laps, told DirtVision after his 296th Outlaws win. “I kind of had to go where he didn’t. We got that green-white-checkered, and I decided I was going to send it. He decided the same thing.

Donny Schatz celebrates at Lake Ozark Speedway after his second Outlaws Sprint Car victory of the season (Trent Gower).

“I’m glad to get the win. It feels like it’s been forever. I’ve been out here 24 years, and every night is a learning experience still.”

Larson finished second in his fifth start since he began racing with the Outlaws after being suspended from NASCAR.

“Obviously, it would have been nice to get the win,” Larson said on DirtVision. “I figured Donny would rip the middle. The restarts before, he’d almost clear me in (turns) 3 and 4. I should have known to protect and block his momentum. I felt I exited 2 OK. We don’t have spotters or rearview mirrors so you can’t see how close he is or really hear it when the pace is so slow.

“I just didn’t do a good enough job to run a smarter final couple of laps.”

Brad Sweet, Larson’s brother in law, finished third, with Shane Stewart and David Gravel rounding out the top five.

Larson rebounded from a 10th in Friday’s feature at Lake Ozark Speedway, continuing his streak of top-10 finishes in all five of his starts since the Outlaws’ return.

“We got our car a lot better from last night, so that was a plus,” said Larson, who finished second and first in back-to-back nights last week at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at Pevely, Missouri. “These guys are really tough. To be on the podium with Donny and Brad, they’ve won lots of big races and championships, it’s nice. I just didn’t do what I needed to do that last restart.”

Larson nearly had a flawless night Saturday, turning a 11.426-second lap to capture his second pole position this season and won the pole dash to start first in the feature.

Larson, who was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing from his NASCAR Cup Series ride last month for using a racial slur in an iRacing event, said last week that he plans to run several more NOS Energy Sprint Car Series races this year.

Larson remains indefinitely suspended by NASCAR but was approved to race by the Outlaws after completing sensitivity training.