PLYMOUTH, Wis – The rivalry that the NTT IndyCar Series has been searching for is on the cusp of really shining. The good news about all of this, it involves the top two drivers in the series right now and both are budding superstars, Oh, did I mention both are American’s too?
Alexander Rossi has got to be at a point of being sick of finishing second. The frustration is mounting more and more by the weekend. See, Rossi makes no qualms about it either. He’s here to win and here to do so now. He wants trophies and wants them however he can get them.
Poles, race wins, championships. He wants them all.
So, when some people would be proud just to finish second in any session in the NTT IndyCar Series, the Andretti Autosport driver is frustrated. He’s here to win and nothing else is acceptable.
Alexander Rossi at Road America this weekend – INDYCAR Media Site
Heading into this weekend, Rossi has finished second in three of the last four races. In all three of them, he chased a Penske car in front across the finish line.
It was the Indy 500 when he came home a close second to Simon Pagenaud. Then, in Belle Isle 1 and the last race at Texas, Rossi finished runner-up each time to Josef Newgarden.
On Saturday, it was at least a different team in front – Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Young Colton Herta narrowly beat Rossi for the pole for Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix at Road America (12 p.m. ET/NBC/INDYCAR Radio Network).
“It came down to the end, but that’s the NTT IndyCar Series,” said Rossi who also earned his third front row starting spot in the last four races as well. “What we have week-in-and-week-out, and it requires perfection from both the team and the driver. It was a good day, I think in general for the No. 27 NAPA Andretti boys – and congratulations to Colton (Herta), he did a good job. It’s unfortunate to miss out on the point that we need. But that’s the way it is.
“We’re ahead of Josef (Newgarden) and we’ll try to keep it that way.”
See what he says there at the end? He mentions Newgarden. He knows it. Newgarden knows it. Everyone is starting to wake up and see it. This is going to be a battle of epic proportions for the championship between these two.
Rossi, enters this weekend 25 points behind Newgarden for the season championship. Newgarden, has been in the top six in all three practice sessions this weekend. Rossi, was also in the top six in all of them himself. These two are in an intense battle to which can really pull themselves further ahead of the pack on Sunday afternoon.
Newgarden, won the last race of the season at Texas. He led 53 of 55 laps in his dominant win in this very race at Road America last year too. He’s won twice in the last three Indy Car races overall to go along with seven top four finishes in nine races this season overall. Rossi meanwhile has four straight top five finishes including six in the last seven races of the year.
Rossi starts second, Newgarden literally right behind him in fourth. Game on.
Simon Pagenaud is third in the standings but rolls off 16th. Fourth place Scott Dixon will start 12th. Both are extremely frustrated to how their weekend’s are going and both could be in the danger zone in this points championship if Rossi and Newgarden finish on the podium yet again in Sunday’s 55 Lap race.
Newgarden, says that his car is where it should be right now, but that will change for Sunday.
“I thought we were a third- or a fourth-place car,” said Newgarden on his qualifying effort in his No. 2 Chevrolet. “That is what it seemed like right from the get-go. I don’t think we were as strong as these guys next to us. We didn’t have a great Q3 lap, I think we could have maybe pipped Will, but that’s maximum. We seemed stronger in the morning and seemed to suffer a little bit more in the heat this afternoon. But it’s tough to get it right so we’ve got to work on the race now with where we’re at. I think we’re within striking distance of putting a good race together and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”
The thing is, starting spots are so critical at this track and even in the series this season that these two don’t want to give them up. All three winners of the Indy Car race at Road America since the series starting coming back to the scenic Wisconsin track in 2016 have been won from a top five starting spot. Seven of the nine races run in 2019 have been won from the top 3 Rows.
Do I need to mention again that Rossi and Newgarden roll off in Row 1 and Row 2 respectively.
But, they’ll have some competition from two drivers that are hungry to end their droughts.
Will Power though is hoping to play spoiler. His third place starting spot is his best since Long Beach back in April but his worst in three tries in Elkhart Lake as weird as that sounds.
Power is back in sixth in the standings and 113 points out. He really has nothing to lose but go for broke. The Aussie won this race in 2016 and finished fifth in 2017. Unfortunately, while starting second a year ago, his car had a mechanical failure and he’d finish last.
Will Power practicing his No. 12 Chevrolet at Road America – INDYCAR Media Site
That’s how his luck has gone this season. Power, was leading at COTA, the first 45 laps at that, but an ill timed caution came out before he hit pit road. Then, while on pit road, another electrical malfunction. At Barber, his car just wasn’t there as he’d finish 11th. Same for Long Beach and the INDYCAR Grand Prix with both resulting in seventh place finishes.
He finally rebounded at Indy but only after a costly pit road infraction near the midway mark of the race. In Belle Isle 1 he had issues in both races but the second one he rebounded for a third place finish. At Texas, he just didn’t have it and finished ninth.
If you’re keeping track, that’s two top five finishes in his last eight starts on the season. With a good starting spot and a fast race car, he’s ready to capitalize.
“I think we’ve just been hanging around the top four all weekend and haven’t been P1 yet, but hopefully that’s tomorrow,” said Power. “Just a little bit short, with P2 being the best case scenario for our Verizon Chevy. Happy to start on row two. Hopefully it keeps us out of the mess and we just have a solid day.”
Don’t count out rookie Colton Herta either. He already was the youngest winner in Indy Car history with his win on March 24 at COTA. Now, the 19 year old just became the youngest pole winner in series history with the top starting spot for Road America.
But, the races between COTA and this one have been anything but memorable for the Harding Steinbrenner Racing driver.
At Barber, he qualified ninth but had an electrical issue early on and would finish 24th. A week later, he started 10th in Long Beach but made a mistake and finished 23rd.
In the INDYCAR Grand Prix he qualified fourth but was involved in an early race incident. He’d finish 23rd again. For the Indy 500, he started fifth but an electrical issue cost him dearly as he’d finish 33rd. He only completed 18 laps for the entire Month of May in race conditions.
At Belle Isle, he started fifth and fourth respectively but only finished 12th in each race. In the last race at Texas, he qualified 10th but was involved in a crash with Scott Dixon with 20 laps-to-go and would finish 18th as a result.
Now, he’s got a pole at a track that promoted track position. Two of the three years we’ve seen the pole winner win this race. Herta, is looking to make it 3-for-4.
While this race could see the top four drivers all finish in those spots, it will be interesting to see how they get there too.