Sometime between becoming the youngest winner in the history of Indy car racing with a sensational victory in the INDYCAR Classic at the Circuit of The Americas and getting on his plane home from Texas, perhaps someone should have checked Colton Herta for rattlesnake bites.
Big bites. And lots of them.
Misfortune doesn't even begin to describe Herta's plight in the last four NTT IndyCar Series races where he's finished last three times and narrowly escaped that fate by one spot from last in the other.
“It just sucks,” Herta said after he retired from Sunday's Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge with a mechanical issue after just five laps and finished 33rd.
“I know everybody is still super fired up for this year. We’ve been quick everywhere and haven’t qualified outside the top 11 yet. I know we’ll be back next week.”
Two months ago, the teenager looked to be a surprise championship contender of 2019 after starting the year off with an eighth place in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and following that with his win in Austin, Texas, at the age of 18 years, 259 days.
The quick start saw Herta leave Texas second overall in points, which had many thinking the young American was just getting started in his rookie season with Harding Steinbrenner Racing.
It didn't work out that way.
He arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, flying high and qualified ninth, but plummeted to earth quickly when his No. 88 Honda lost fuel pressure 30 laps into the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst. A week later, he crashed out of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Those two last-place finishes were followed by a similar story four weeks later in the INDYCAR Grand Prix, where contact on Lap 15 forced him out of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road-course race. He ended the day second to last.
Things looked promising for the Indy 500 when Herta was the fastest rookie qualifier and earned an impressive fifth starting position. But it soured quickly, with a gearbox issue that was the result, Herta said, of a fuel leak that burned wiring that controlled the gearbox electronics. He completed only three laps in the biggest race of the season.
Now, four races after looking like an early title challenger, Herta has dropped 14 places in the standings and now lies 16th, 140 points behind new leader Simon Pagenaud. He has also slipped into third place among NTT IndyCar Series rookies, trailing Santino Ferrucci and Felix Rosenqvist.
Herta goes into the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear doubleheader at Belle Isle Park hoping the quick turnaround will take his mind off his string of disappointing races and keep him pushing forward.
“It’s nice to have the back-to-back races to get focused right away for the Detroit Grand Prix this weekend,” he said. “We’ve been getting faster as the season progresses, so hopefully we have no problem getting up to speed, as this will be a new track for me.”
The good news is Herta has shown tremendous speed in qualifying and races, and his results do not reflect his raw pace. He's reached the Firestone Fast Six twice this season and has qualified in the top 5 three times. His average starting spot in the first six races is seventh.
One thing that has made going through the rough patch a bit easier is the continued support he gets from his team owners, George M. Steinbrenner IV, the grandson of late New York Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner, and Indiana businessman Mike Harding.
“It's not stressful for me at all because they don't put any pressure on me to perform,” Herta said.
“I think they know I can be quick. They have a lot of confidence in me, so that kind of helps. They don't put any pressure on me, so it's pretty simple for me.”
Herta has two chances to change his luck this weekend in Detroit. Live race coverage starts at 3 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.