INDIANAPOLIS – There is a special quality in some drivers that comes shining through at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Consider Alexander Rossi among those few.
With each opportunity, Rossi seems to take center stage one way or another at the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Whether it’s an unbelievable run on fumes to win the 100th running in 2016 or making breathtaking passes to work his way to the front, it’s why many have their eyes on the Andretti Autosport driver for Sunday’s 103rd running at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The 27-year-old Californian won the event as a rookie in 2016. He started on the outside of the front row in 2017 and dazzled early before fading to seventh and put on a stunning display of passing when he charged from 32nd to fourth a year ago.
While it has all looked spectacular from the outside, Rossi tries to consider the pinnacle race of the NTT IndyCar Series season like any other.
“You're just trying to go out and treat it like a race weekend and go through your normal steps and processes of how you get to the end result,” said the driver of the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda.
“As much as there's a lot of things going on – on the external side of things that are important and in the name of tradition – it'll have a lot of meaning to us at the end of the day. It's the sixth round of the NTT IndyCar Series (season). You’ve got to go out and just go race like you would if it was the green flag at (any other race).”
The biggest delight for Rossi heading into this year is starting ninth versus being on the last row like last year.
“That was a whole new experience and I'm glad that we don't have to do that again,” Rossi said. “We can tick that box, hopefully for the last time. But it'll be a different mindset this year than last year.
“At the end of the day, last year there was nothing to lose. This year I'm very happy to be in ninth and take a position or two as they come or go. But at the end of the day, just sit around there and until we figure out what the car is and how the race is unfolding.”
The six-time winner in the NTT IndyCar Series has been strong at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but admitted the universal aero kit – in its second season of use – has changed the racing dynamic and strategy for the 500-mile May classic.
“Years before, you could (move through the field) pretty easily if you had a fast car, sit in sixth and then kind of just drive your way to the front at will,” Rossi said. “Now, it's a bigger process than that. It takes sometimes up to 10 laps to get a guy.
“So, I'd say that the guys you're going to be – aside from any crazy strategy stuff happening, which I'm all too familiar with – I would say the top four or five guys with 100 (miles) to go are going to be the guys. I don't see the person in ninth or 10th just being able then to just all of a sudden drive their way through.”
Rossi sits third in the championship standings, 37 points behind leader Josef Newgarden, heading into the race. While winning the world’s largest single-day sporting event again is the ultimate goal, Rossi doesn’t feel he needs a second win to justify his “clutch and coast” fuel-saving strategy that won the race in 2016.
“I think we've proven ourselves at this point,” Rossi said. “If it falls our way, we are more than capable of winning the race. It's not like we go out and are floating around in 25th every year since then, so it's kind of irrelevant to me. The biggest thing was the following year, 2017, to qualify up front to prove that we deserve to be there.
“The fact that we were able to do that with (qualifying) third, I think we accomplished that and made our point.”
With a triumph Sunday, Rossi will become the 20th driver with two or more Indianapolis 500 wins. Live coverage of the race starts at 11 a.m. ET on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. The green flag for the 200-lap race is expected at 12:45 p.m.