Wild wreck on opening lap at Texas has Alexander Rossi questioning qualifying call

NTT IndyCar Series XPEL 375
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

A massive crash on the first lap of Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway left Alexander Rossi questioning a decision to cancel qualifying for the XPEL 375.

The six-car wreck started as the green flag flew for Lap 1 when Pietro Fittipaldi rear-ended Sebastien Bourdais and also collected Rossi, Dalton Kellett, Ed Jones and Conor Daly, whose No. 59 Dallara-Chevrolet went sliding a few hundred feet on the frontstretch pavement.

“First of all watching that, I’m glad Conor’s OK, I’m glad everyone’s OK,” Rossi told pit reporter Marty Snider on NBCSN. “You never want to see that. Obviously, there was a concertina effect, Pietro got into Sebastien, kind of spun into me.

“The biggest problem I have with all this is we had an entire day, and we’re still setting the grid based on points. And there are plenty of tires, plenty of opportunity and daylight and weather to qualify. And I don’t think this 27 AutoNation Andretti Honda should ever have been starting 15th. So I understand why we did it yesterday. We wanted to get the show in the race in. I’m all for that.

“It makes no sense why you don’t just qualify this morning. You have plenty of time. That’s frustrating. It’s obviously the same for everyone, but we definitely have a car that’s above a 15th-place car and shouldn’t be with guys that maybe don’t have that same amount of pace. Ultimately it is what it is. It’s disappointing. Again, glad everyone is OK. We’ll reset and go for it in Indy in a couple of weeks.”

The field was set for Sunday’s race by the entrant standings after Saturday night’s race, which also was set by points after qualifying was canceled because inclement weather delayed practice. The Saturday afternoon qualifying session was scheduled for two laps, the first determining the grid for Saturday and the second setting Sunday’s lineup.

Instead, the field was set on consecutive days by the points standings, which left some presumably faster cars in the middle of the pack.

It’s a procedure mandated by the IndyCar rulebook, which lays out the parameters for doubleheader race weekends. In the event that qualifying is canceled, the Race 1 lineup is set by existing entrant points, and the starting order for Race 2 is set by the updated points standings from Race 1.

According to series officials, there were no discussions of adding a qualifying session Sunday at Texas because the schedule already had been set by the rules.

IndyCar Texas crash Rossi
Conor Daly flips on the first lap at Texas Motor Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Bourdais, who also crashed Saturday night after being run into by Josef Newgarden, said Fittipaldi apologized for hitting his No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet, which turned right into Rossi’s No. 27 and started the chain reaction.

“I’m guessing he just drilled us, and there you have it,” Bourdais told Snider. “That sets the whole thing in motion. Clearly, it was checking up at the front, which at this stage, where we are, we should be going. I don’t know what was going on at the front. It’s still not an excuse. It’s the same thing as yesterday, when someone checks up in front of you, you should be in control of your car and slowing down.

“It’s a real shame that two days in a row, we get drilled and taken out of the race. Nothing we can do about it. These have been a couple of expensive days for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Fittipaldi sprained a finger on his right hand in the crash.

“I was behind Seb, running well, and he backed up ahead, and I had no room to go anywhere,” Fittipaldi, who is running the ovals on the IndyCar schedule, told pit reporter Dave Burns on NBCSN. “I tried and hit Seb and turned him around. I don’t know if the leaders backed up, but there was no time to go anywhere. I tried. Nowhere to go.”

Toward the front of the field, Josef Newgarden (who started sixth) and Graham Rahal (in ninth) noticed there was a deceleration in the first two rows.

“I’m not surprised,” Newgarden said after finishing second to Pato O’Ward. “It doesn’t take much. The smallest checkup can turn into a really big effect down the line. I think that’s what happened today. I noticed just a little bobble. Everyone kind of adjusts, but I think people probably overreacted in the back.

“It’s unfortunate. You got to have the thing silky smooth when you’re at the front starting these races. If it’s not 100% smooth the way everyone is brought to the line, it can get really tricky at the back.”

Rahal, who started directly behind Newgarden, said the start “seemed a little jerky. But it’s so hard, man. It just exaggerates every row you go back. The accordion gets worse and worse and worse. It seemed like a very slow start. The pace was really, really slow, which also adds to it. Guys are kind of eager to go, go, go. It’s just not going.”

Daly joined Rossi in voicing his displeasure with IndyCar declining to reschedule qualifying for Sunday.

Daly’s car went airborne after getting sandwiched between Jones and Kellett.

After sliding to a stop in the infield grass, it popped right side up, and Daly emerged unscathed – another testament to the aeroscreen cockpit safety device.

“I think in general in IndyCar, we have too many start crashes, so we should probably look at that,” Daly told Burns.

“There’s such an accordion effect. But honestly it looked fine. Everyone was accelerating. I had the best view because I was last. You see it, but all it takes is one person because everyone is nose to tail. You can’t throw blame at anyone.

“All I know is being upside down isn’t fun. Never had that happen in an IndyCar before. On our bingo card of terrible things to have happened to us so far this year, I don’t know what’s going to be next. But I really hope we can just start turning things around because it’s been a rough start for sure.

“But I’m good! I’m all right. … It’s like two giant cars came together, and I was in the middle. Turns out you can be upside down quite easily. That sucked. We’ll be on to better things hopefully in Indianapolis in our hometown here.”

Daly also endured a fiery wreck a Camping World Truck Series race March 5 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Rahal said it would be difficult for IndyCar to address the problem because each driver has their own style for starting the race.

“When Helio (Castroneves) is in front, you’re in fourth gear coming to the green,” Rahal said. “When (Scott Dixon) is in the front, it’s first gear. Everybody is so different, it’s very hard. I don’t know. It’s just very hard to set a rule. A constant pace can be 60 miles an hour, it can be 160. It’s a difficult thing to monitor.”

NTT IndyCar Series XPEL 375
Conor Daly flips over Sunday on the opening lap at Texas Motor Speedway (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

After a winless 2020 in which his highlight was winning most popular driver, Rossi has started this season with four finishes of eighth or worse and will head to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race in two weeks outside the top 15 in points.

The 2016 Indy 500 winner still tried to strike an optimistic tone.

“A lot of people drawing comparisons to last year, and while last year, we did get taken out before a green flag (at Gateway), the difference was we never felt we had a car to win,” Rossi said. “I feel that’s a lot different this year. I think Andretti Autosport has done a really good job of giving us the tools we need. Just hasn’t been meant to be yet.

“There’s been a lot of different factors. Ultimately we’ll just keep our heads down doing what we’re doing.”

IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told NBCSports.com.

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”

Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.

Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500