BELLE ISLE, Mich – Alexander Rossi had his sights set on dominating Saturday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. This was his revenge tour. See, Rossi left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last Sunday fuming.
Now, he leaves Belle Isle on Saturday just as mad, or more “annoyed” as he put it. Luckily, in 24 hours, he has another go of it and doesn’t have to wait five days to get back into his No. 27 Honda.
See, Rossi started on the pole and was well on his way to winning Saturday’s 75 minute timed race. Instead, a caution flag flew when Ed Jones got into the tire barriers with 43 minutes remaining.
Prior to that caution, several drivers had just hit pit road including Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Spencer Pigot, Santino Ferrucci, Zach Veach and Josef Newgarden. For the latter, he was literally just on pit road.
So, when pit road opened, it would mean that those drivers who had just pitted would cycle to the lead. But, Rossi had other thoughts in mind. The cars never really packed up behind him as he sped down towards pit lane. He caught a break by that because he’d exit pit road third.
Newgarden, would inherit the lead and Will Power exited pit lane second. But, Power’s right front tire was never secured and it flew off exiting pit lane. Rossi, would move up to second, right behind Newgarden.
It was game on.
Newgarden vs. Rossi.
For the second straight week though, Rossi lost out to a Penske driver. Last week, it was Simon Pagenaud. This week, it’s Newgarden.
Rossi, just couldn’t get enough push to get by and had to settle for his second straight runner-up finish. It was his third top two finish in his last three starts on the season and fifth top five of the year.
For Newgarden, he’d lead the final 25 laps en route to his second win of the season and 12th of his NTT IndyCar Series career. It was also his sixth top four finish on the year which is why he holds a commanding 25 point lead over Pagenaud heading into Sunday’s Race No. 2.
Penske has won the last four races on the season and swept the day on Saturday with their IMSA team winning that race just prior to Saturday’s timed event.
See, the race was timed because severe thunderstorms moved through the area just following the IMSA race. That delayed the start by a little over an hour, hence the series and track officials moving the race from 70 Laps to 75 minutes.
At the start, we saw Zach Veach spin coming to the green. So, we’d start the clock under yellow. Then, on the first lap, Pato O’Ward got into the Turn 2 wall. He’d continue on and finish 14th.
We’d see five cautions overall for 14 laps. One of which was for Scott Dixon who crashed on Lap 23 while running second. He’d be credited with a last place finish in 22nd as this was his first DNF since Texas in 2017.
Takuma Sato would finish third in his No. 30 Honda for his second straight third place run and fifth top eight result in the last six races on the season. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist would come home fourth in his No. 10 Honda while Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top five in his No. 28 Honda.
Here are my main takeaways from Saturday’s race.
Pit Stop Was Turning Point Of The Race
If that pit stop for Newgarden doesn’t happen, then Rossi is likely the one celebrating in the fountain instead. See, Rossi had a much quicker car but he couldn’t do anything with it. Due to the racing line being dry but the other lanes still being wet, he couldn’t do anything but follow in the tire tracks of Newgarden for the final 25 laps.
The pit stop also did make up for some points too though because if the field was packed them Rossi likely would have restarted seventh.
So, he did get screwed by a caution and pit strategy but also helped that the field wasn’t packed up too.
Newgarden vs. Rossi For The Championship?
This is shaping up to be a Newgarden vs. Rossi play for the title. If so, it’s going to be a fun one. Newgarden, has two wins on the year. He also has two runner-ups. He’s led 128 laps. In seven races, he has six top fours.
Rossi, has one win, two runner-ups and 125 laps led. In seven races, he has six top 10 finishes. The fight on Saturday was a big one with Newgarden winning this round. But, don’t expect Rossi to lay over.
Rossi, has finishes of fifth, first and second respectively on street courses. Newgarden, has finishes of first, second and first respectively. With two more street races left this season, watch out.
Yes, Simon Pagenaud now has six top 10 finishes in seven starts this season including two wins, he did finish sixth on Saturday and lost 26 points in one day. Rossi, is there and could move into second by the end of the weekend on Sunday.
Did Dixon and Power Lose The Championship On Saturday?
We talked about it last year that the second race in Belle Isle could have been the moment that Alexander Rossi lost the season championship. He went from trying to hold off his Andretti teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay for the win in the end but made a mistake and went into the run off. Rossi, fell to 12th in the race in which Scott Dixon finished fourth. Dixon, scored 32 points compared to Rossi’s 22. But, Rossi could have at the very least scored 44 points. He lost 22 points in that moment.
On Saturday, Scott Dixon entered 49 points out of the lead. He leaves 92 points out. That comes after trailing Newgarden by only six points leaving the INDYCAR Grand Prix. He’s lost 86 points in two races in the championship. Can Dixon make up 92 points on Newgarden over the final 10 races of the season? When Newgarden’s had a top four finish in literally every race with the exception of one this season, that’s going to be difficult.
That’s why Dixon crashing for the first time since Texas in 2017 was so rare. In 312 starts, he’s been running at the finish in 263 of them or 85-percent of his series starts. So, for Dixon to make a rare mistake to when he got into the tire barriers on Lap 23 and finish last, it’s eye opening.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was running in the top three at the time and was destined for his 110th career podium. He was first and third respectively in practice this weekend and was starting third as well. So, to crash like he did, it could have been the nail in the coffin for his championship hopes.
Same for Will Power on Saturday. He made a mistake in qualifying and started 12th. While he charged up through the field, Power exited pit lane second, or so he thought at the most crucial point of the race. His right front tire changer didn’t get the tire tightened and it fell off exiting pit lane. Power, would fall to the back and finish 18th. He’s now 107 points out.
Neither Dixon nor Power have won this season as Power has just two top five’s all year.
Chevrolet Gets Win In Own Backyard
Chevy’s main focus in 2019 was to be better on street course races, especially in Belle Isle. See, this is Penske’s track and he hasn’t won here since 2016. That’s also the last time a Chevy driver has won this race. With the event taking place in Chevy’s backyard, they want better results.
Well, it didn’t appear it would go that way until that key pit road call for Newgarden. I mean look at the finishing order. Seven of the top nine are Honda’s. That comes after five of the top six starters being Honda’s.
But, a Chevy driver was left standing on top in the end. That’s how crucial that pit call by Tim Cindric was.
Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.
10 Rosenqvist R
88 Herta R
7 Ericsson R
31 O’Ward R
19 Ferrucci R
20 Jones -1
4 Leist OUT
9 Dixon OUT