It was the white flag lap in last Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio and for the second week in a row, Alexander Rossi appeared to be finishing outside of the top-five in an NTT IndyCar Series race.
That all changed in just one turn of the final lap.
The implications might have an even bigger impact at the end of the season when the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship is decided.
Rossi was running sixth at the time and championship points leader Josef Newgarden of Team Penske was fourth. Newgarden entered the race with a 29-point lead over Rossi and was about to increase that advantage.
But the Team Penske driver saw an opportunity to pass Ryan Hunter-Reay for third-place in the Turn 2 section of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – known as the keyhole. The two drivers raced hard, Newgarden attempted a crossover, hit the side of Hunter-Reay’s Honda and ricocheted off the race course.
Newgarden’s engine stalled, leaving him stranded in the gravel pit. As Rossi drove by to complete the final lap, he saw Newgarden’s blue-and-white Chevrolet amid the cloud of dust.
“I didn’t see the incident -- we were in a critical fuel situation at that point and I was scared to make it home,” Rossi told NTT INDYCAR Mobile. “I drove by a blue-and-white car in the gravel and I said, ‘We’ll take that one.’”
Scott Dixon went on to win the race at the completion of that lap. He defeated Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Felix Rosenqvist by 0.0934-of-a-second in the closest IndyCar Series race in Mid-Ohio history. Hunter-Reay was third followed by Team Penske’s Will Power.
Rossi, who was set to finish sixth in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda of Andretti Autosport, went on to finish fifth. Newgarden went from fourth to 14th in the No. 2 PPG Chevrolet of Team Penske.
“We’ve needed ‘Lady Luck’ on our side, and we’ve been looking for that all year,” Ross said. “Fortunately, we got that.
“We’ll take it. We got away with one.”
The scenario proved beneficial for Rossi, who trimmed Newgarden’s lead to just 16 points entering the two-weekend break in the NTT IndyCar Series schedule. Racing resumes Aug. 18 with the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, airing on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m.
Take away Newgarden’s failed attempt at the pass in the keyhole and Rossi would have trailed by 34 points.
“I’ve had it go the other way plenty of times, so we’ll take it,” Rossi said afterwards. “It was a difficult day overall for us. We didn’t have the pace on either tire. In the end, the team did a good job, kept me focused and we stayed with it and got a top-five.
“It’s days like that where you have to get points. Fortunately, luck was on our side today.”
Rossi prefers to be 16 points ahead with four races to go, but the sudden turn of events came at the right time for the Andretti Autosport driver.
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” he said. “This NAPA Andretti Honda team has done a really good job all year. We’ve had pace and have been there all year. We just need some more race wins and hopefully we can get that here in a few weeks after we re-set and re-focus and hit them hard again in Pocono.
“Pocono is a track where we are fast at, so hopefully we can execute there. Five-hundred-mile races are my favorite races and hopefully, we can get back on the top step.”
Rossi believes he has an awesome car for the superspeedways and has led every race he has competed in at Pocono, including a win in last year’s race. That gives him hope to possibly take over the NTT IndyCar Series championship lead.
“It’s pretty even now going into the last four races,” Rossi said. “It’s days like this where hopefully championships are made.
“It was not a good day for us, but we got away with a top-five. That’s all you can do. We were 44 points out leaving here last year and gave it a good run. We’re going to tracks that are really strong for us.
“We have to execute and get it done.”