Alexander Rossi has mixed emotions about impressive comeback

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TORONTO – With a white towel draped around his neck and fingers in his hair, Alexander Rossi stared at a laptop on his team’s pit stand and kept shaking his head. He climbed down and sat on the pit wall with a distant gaze while waiting for a postrace interview to begin.

A wild Honda Indy Toronto was over, and you could make a case that Rossi should have been in joyous disbelief.

After six pit stops, three front wings and one airborne collision, his Andretti Autosport team had salvaged an eighth-place finish and maintained the eight-point gap to second-ranked Josef Newgarden in the points standings.

But the postrace feeling instead was one long lament for Rossi, one of three title contenders who watched potential podium finishes slip away Sunday as race winner Scott Dixon’s championship lead ballooned.

“It was really disappointing,” said Rossi, who finished outside the top 10 for the third time in six races. “I don’t think I had the car to beat Scott, but with all the problems everyone had, we could have been second. It’s been a difficult string of races.”

The 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner’s wild ride began on Lap 28 when he made contact with Will Power and damaged his front end.

That necessitated the first wing change. He’d need another just five laps later when he briefly went airborne (“Big shock,” Rossi said) after contact with teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay in a multicar pileup started by Graham Rahal. Though his floorboards were heavily damaged, Rossi soldiered on.

“The fact that we finished eighth is a huge testament to the team, and I’m so thankful for them,” he said. “They kept me in it. So it was a difficult day. We’ve had a lot of mistakes lately and not a lot of time left, so a lot of work to do.”

At least he was in good company among those who suffered because of errors Sunday.  Hunter-Reay was running third when he locked his front wheels entering Turn 3 and landed in the tire barrier. He finished 16th.

“Probably would have finished second today,” said Hunter-Reay, whose team made some costly miscues in a 19th last week at Iowa. “That was down to me completely. It’s a bummer.

“We’re hustling the car around here, and if you try to get in by literally a foot too far into the corner, it’s gone. I’ll be kicking myself in the rear end on this one for a little while after this one.”

Regrets also hit pole-sitter Josef Newgarden, who scraped the wall coming to a Lap 33 restart. After leading 25 laps, he finished ninth.

“I don’t know what to tell you, I went straight into the wall,” said the defending series champion, who apparently drifted too far out of the groove. “And part of that is my fault, just making a mistake, but I didn’t expect it; I’ll tell you that. I just had no idea the car was going to do that. I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely.

“I feel terrible. I think (the car) was capable of being in the top three or potentially winning the race if I didn’t make the mistake, but you have days like this in racing. We have to move on now and try to pick it back up.”

That was the attitude for Rossi, who was left to wonder how things might have been different if the closing rate on Power hadn’t caught him off guard.

“When you’re on overtake, and you’re in the tow, you don’t really expect a huge speed differential from the car in front,” he said. “I was popping, and it was at the same time he was slowing down. It’s one of those things.”

The tiny silver lining? His team’s impressive comeback ensured he still finished ahead of Newgarden and Hunter-Reay.

“That’s the only positive we can take from today,” Rossi said.

But a runner-up finish would have meant another 17 points – easily putting him into second in the standings and within striking distance of Dixon with five races remaining.

Hence all that postrace reflection.

“As it is now, we closed the gap to second and extended it on fourth, but that’s not good enough, man,” Rossi said. “We’re trying to win a championship. We’re not trying to finish second.”