After initially agreeing with the assertion that the more times a driver puts himself in position to win an NTT IndyCar Series championship, the greater likelihood it will happen, Alexander Rossi clarified what he has learned from coming close the past two seasons.
“I think we need to put ourselves in a better position going into the last race,” Rossi said. “We’ve never been in a points scenario where we can just go beat the guy and win it. It’s something where this has to happen if I do this, right?
“We haven’t really put ourselves in position yet. It’s always been a little bit of a long shot. Really, the only reason we were in contention this year was because of double points. Had it been a normal race, it would have been said and done before the weekend started.”
Rossi, who in July agreed to a new multi-year contract with Andretti Autosport, finished third in the series championship, 33 points behind Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden. The year before, he was runner-up, 57 points behind Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon.
Since his rookie year in 2016, when his first series triumph couldn’t have been more memorable in the 100th Indianapolis 500, Rossi has celebrated five more victories and established himself as a perennial championship contender.
While his appreciation for the significance of winning “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” has grown dramatically from the time he experienced victory lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Rossi always reiterates an understandable racer mentality for finishing second in anything, be it a race or championship.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I don’t care about that. Second, third, fourth or fifth, it’s irrelevant.”
On the Thursday before this year's Indianapolis 500, Rossi spoke of how he could go out and have the drive of his life, finish second and still be upset. Then Rossi finished second to Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud.
“I predicted that, huh?” Rossi said.
On the Monday after Newgarden celebrated his second career series title, Rossi said he was already focused on 2020 and winning an elusive championship.
But he says the Indianapolis 500 comes first.
“One hundred percent, it has to be,” he said. “You spend the whole offseason preparing for a championship and that’s the ultimate goal, but the race you want to win the most is the ‘500.’ You have more of an emotional connection to the ‘500.’ Then there’s more of a competitive drive to win the championship. It’s not the same.
“I haven’t won the championship, but I don’t know that there’s the same emotional connection or release when you win versus the other. The championship does really start at two points, in St. Pete and in Detroit, the four races leading up to the ‘500’ and then everything else post ‘500.’”
Some would say Rossi has accomplished the more important of the two career goals by winning the Indy 500.
“It depends on what you have and don’t have, right?” he said. “I’m sure part of Josef would rather have one ‘500’ and one championship versus two championships, right? I would definitely prefer a championship at this point, but obviously the first obstacle coming up in 2020 is the ‘500.’”
Rossi has had some exciting moments at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he has also finished fourth and seventh in the 500. Some could say his bold passing in each of the last two 500s provided the most excitement.
“I think 2018 was more entertaining than this year, in my mind,” he said of finishing fourth.
That’s became he pulled off a pass for the ages.
“It was like seven cars,” he said. “It started in Turn 1 and went all the way to the backstretch.”
Was that the greatest pass of his career to date?
“Probably, yeah, I think it’s the one that I’ve seen the most highlights of,” he said.
The 28-year-old Californian agrees there’s something about the 500 that brings out his best.
“I guess it suits me more than other ovals, but I think a lot of it is the car,” he said. “There’s so much of your result at Indianapolis dictated by the machinery you’re in. Andretti Autosport is phenomenal at Indianapolis. Look at the 9 car this year; (Dixon) wasn’t really doing anything stupendous during the race, but it’s Scott Dixon (and) he knows how to drive at Indianapolis.
“I think a lot is I click with 500-mile races. Up until Pocono this year, I led at least one lap of every single one I competed in. I feel comfortable in those races, but a lot of those results are due to the preparation and the commitment of the team.”
Without belaboring the topic too much, Rossi is confident he will win a championship some day.
“It will come at some point,” he said. “It could be five years, 10 years, next year, who knows? We just weren’t good enough this year, plain and simple.”