Alexander Rossi: 'I never had a reason to leave here'

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LEXINGTON, Ohio — Once again, Alexander Rossi shrugged.

That shoulder twitch of acknowledgement has become quite common in the past few months when asked about his future, about whether he would be returning to Andretti Autosport. Rossi never had much to say. He let his father, Pieter, handle negotiations so the driver could stay focused on winning an NTT IndyCar Series championship.

That’s why Saturday’s shrug should have signified a little more. This time, the reactionary twitch came when asked if he was relieved to have the contract talk behind him as Andretti Autosport joined with Honda, NAPA AUTO PARTS and AutoNation to announce a new multi-year contract for Rossi to continue to drive the No. 27 Honda.

If nothing else, Rossi epitomizes unfazed.

“No, when you get in the race car, you focus on your job,” he said. “You have to stay very, very hyper focused on executing. There’s a lot of competition and you can’t let external factors affect what you’re doing. As I’ve said, I have a very good team away from the race track, in terms of my management and support. I have complete and total confidence and faith in what they do. It always helps when it’s your father and you know they always have your back.”

Rossi couldn’t be more adamant that he was never distracted, not for one second, amid the constant rumors about where he could end up. The 2018 NTT IndyCar Series championship runner-up is second in the points this season -- 29 behind Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, entering Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

“It’s just that there was nothing to say,” Rossi said of his penchant for understated body language each time he was asked the same question. “So, you can’t say anything if there’s nothing to say. We have something to say now, and we’re happy to talk about it.

“I’m happy we can move forward from it. I’m happy that everyone’s No. 1 goal was able to be put together and we were able to build upon a very strong foundation. We’ve grown from strength to strength, from 2016 on, every year we’ve improved. I don’t see that changing, going forward. People and relationships are a huge part of this sport. This is the only (IndyCar) team that I know, and this is home for me.”

Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti was confident the deal would get done because he knew Rossi had that affinity for the team. Andretti said there was still a financial hurdle to clear until two weeks ago, when AutoNation stepped up its involvement for 2020.

“That’s when I felt like, ‘OK, we’re going to get it done,’” Andretti said.

That Rossi was able to maintain such singular focus on what mattered reinforced why Andretti wanted to keep him.

“His dad did a good job shielding him from it,” Andretti said. “We basically wouldn’t even talk to Alex about it. We’d just talk to his dad. It worked out really well.”

“It’s easy to get drawn into this stuff, but he’s very strong mentally and you could tell, as he said, it never really phases him. He just gets on with his business. When he’s in his car, I don’t think there’s any one thing on his mind except driving that race car.”

In the end, both sides were of like mind that there was so much more that could be accomplished together. As much as the 27-year-old Californian has come so far in four series seasons with seven wins including the 2016 Indianapolis 500, they’re hungry to reach greater heights.

“There’s so much we can still do here and so many more races to win and hopefully championships,” Andretti said. “I think Alex felt that. I think he’s been real happy with what we’ve been able to build around him with his team. I think he likes everybody else on his team, his teammates. He feels at home here, and we feel like he’s part of the family. That’s very important. If he didn’t have that feeling, it probably wouldn’t have happened. That’s what gave me the confidence that we’re going to get this thing done.”

Rossi said he was “honored” and “humbled” by the confidence shown in him by all parties.

“Now it’s time to go to work and make it worth their while,” he said. “At the end of the day, I never had a reason to leave here.”

Once more, he shrugged. Simplicity helps keep him centered.

“I’m a race car driver, man -- I’m here to drive a race car,” Rossi said. “I think I’m good at compartmentalizing things. I wake up on a Monday morning to go try and win races and that’s all that motivates me and that’s all I ultimately care about. That’s my mind-set and focus for everything that I do.”

Rossi will defend his 2018 race win here at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Sunday at 4 p.m. when the green flag falls for the Honda Indy 200. Catch all the action on NBC.

 

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