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

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