INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Alexander Rossi didn't understand the allure of Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he showed up as a rookie seven years ago and won one of the biggest races in the world.
His win Saturday on the Indy road course didn't rival his 2016 victory in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. But it did snap a 49-race losing streak and gave him a perfect bookend for his seven seasons with Andretti Autosport.
And as he's learned since leaving Formula One and transitioning into a career in American motorsports, any win at Indianapolis is incredible.
“Every time I come here, I just appreciate it more and more. It’s just such an amazing place for us,” said Rossi.
He thought he had a car strong enough at Road America in Wisconsin last month to end his three-year losing streak. Instead, his losing streak lasted 1,133 days — but put him in position to end it at Indy.
“I kind of was hoping on the Road America weekend for it to kind of start and end this drought, but it actually ended here and that's actually kind of a cooler story,” said Rossi, who appreciated celebrating with his No. 27 crew on the elevated victory podium that was built by track owner Roger Penske in 2020.
“To be able to go up on the lift with the guys and let them experience that, because that didn’t exist in 2016, there’s a lot of special things about this place,” Rossi said. “It’s just a very special thing for sure.”
Rossi's last victory was at Road America in the 10th race of the 2019 season and the losing streak led him to seek a change of scenery: Rossi will drive for Arrow McLaren SP next season.
It was Michael Andretti who gave Rossi a shot in IndyCar when the Californian washed out of F1. Rossi's surprise victory as a rookie in the celebrated 100th running of the Indy 500 made him a star and earned him loyal sponsorship that has weathered his long drought.
“It would have been a pretty sad story if we weren’t able to (win)," Rossi said. “I’ve had the majority of the same group of guys, probably 70% of the same group of guys since 2017. It’s been hard for them, as well, so it’s great to do it as a unit and as a group on the 27 car to kind of get this behind us. Hopefully, we can have a pretty strong run to the end of the year.”
Some of Rossi's issues the last three seasons have been team inflicted — errors, mechanical failures and a full Andretti team meltdown earlier this month at Mid-Ohio — and Saturday was hardly a perfect day for the organization.
Colton Herta controlled the early part of the race but slowed from the lead right before the halfway mark.
“Nothing I can do,” he radioed as he tried to cruise his underpowered Honda back to pit lane.
He later walked alone down pit lane back to the paddock as the race continued without him.
“Man that is sad,” Herta tweeted. “We showed what we can do, we'll keep going til we win again.”
Rossi sympathized with his teammate.
“I do feel for Colton, I do. But I’m thankful something finally came our way,” Rossi said. "I think Colton was definitely strong, and we had pretty much the same race car, and that (battle) would’ve been interesting. But it was the 27’s turn. And that’s awesome.”
Meanwhile, Andretti rookie Devlin DeFrancesco drew the ire of Conor Daly as tempers flared when DeFrancesco ran Daly off the track.
“Devlin needs to be kicked out of this racing series! He's an idiot!” Daly screamed over his radio.
There's been speculation that Andretti is reconsidering bringing DeFrancesco back for a sophomore season.
Christian Lundgaard, a rookie from Denmark who made his IndyCar debut in this race a year ago, finished second to give Rahal Letterman Lanigan its first podium of the season. It also gave Honda-powered drivers a 1-2 finish.
Will Power finished third for Team Penske and the Chevrolet driver cycled back to the top of the IndyCar standings for the third time this season. He now holds a nine-point lead over Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson, who started last and finished 11th.
Power thinks the title is within his reach.
"It’s not necessarily playing the long game, it’s just that sort of attitude switch where you know these races are long, the season is long, and you’ve got to make the most of every situation," Power said. "Even if you’re fighting for like 12th, if that’s your day to finish 12th, well, finish 12th, not 24th.
“I just know the game so well. I'm just miles ahead mentally in every respect than I was back then.”
Scott McLaughlin finished fourth and was followed by Josef Newgarden as the Penske drivers worked together to cross the finish line in a row. Newgarden was only cleared to race on Saturday by IndyCar's medical staff after collapsing and hitting his head last Sunday at Iowa Speedway.
The race started with six drivers separated by 44 points with five races remaining in the IndyCar season. The six drivers are now separated by 52 points, with a 10th-place finish by reigning series champion Alex Palou costing him ground.
UP NEXT: IndyCar returns next Sunday to the downtown streets of Nashville for a second consecutive season. Ericsson is the defending race winner.