NASHVILLE, Tenn — Colton Herta was fastest in NTT IndyCar Series practice on the streets of St. Pete on Friday afternoon. He backed that up with being quickest in a 45 minute long session on Saturday too. He followed both up with a dominating pole run later on in the day and looked like the clear cut favorite to win Sunday’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.
He looked the part in Sunday’s race as well. Herta, led a race-high 39 of 80 laps and by far had the fastest car in the 27 driver field. The problem was, he never got to show his true potential. We never got a long enough green flag run with him in the lead for Herta to distance his No. 26 Honda for the competition.
Same for his teammate Alexander Rossi. They have to be wondering what they have to do to win another race. But, as the race went on, the more their luck would change.
The early cautions didn’t allow them to pull out to a lead that they so desperately wanted to do. When the action was green, Herta’s lead would quickly grow. But, these cautions and guys pitting when they did, forced his hand.
Those that pit on Lap 17 was the first grouping, then with another caution near the time he needed to hit pit road, it meant he didn’t get a green flag stop with a large lead that he had planned for. Still, he got lucky by that caution being for a crash in Turn 1 which slowed the pace car down and allowed Herta to avoid being outside of the top 10.
Instead of flipping the field, he’d come out in fourth. Alexander Rossi was fifth to give Andretti Autosport all four cars in the top five. This was now shaping up to be a great day for the organization and the much needed momentum that they’ve been searching for all year.
Instead of winning, half of their cars finished outside of the top 15 and the ones that did were their best two bullets in their chamber.
It all went downhill when the caution came out on Lap 41 for Will Power getting into his teammate Scott McLaughlin. The field would get bunched up again and with one more stop needed, why not split some strategies. Herta remained out while his teammates pit on Lap 45.
It cost Rossi. On the ensuing restart, Pato O’Ward got into him in Turn 4 and ruined both of their days. Rossi, wouldn’t recover and would limp home only in 17th. Herta, would have to pit under that yellow flag period and come out ninth.
He still drove his way back up to second but crashed in going for the win and would finish 19th as a result of that.
Herta, was there. He was just biding his time. When he made a move with 12 to go, he locked up his tires and nearly got into the wall in the process. He fell back a bit to recompose himself before making another challenge. Unfortunately, while pushing to get back to Ericsson, he crashed in Turn 9.
What a bad taste left in their mouths for both. In Rossi’s case, he has to question when this winless drought that now spans back to June 2019, will end?
This year, he qualified on the front row for the season opener in Barber but was called to pit road to shadow pole sitter Pato O’Ward. One problem? O’Ward was pitting early due to a slow leak in his tire. Rossi, was now on the wrong strategy and finished ninth instead. He was 21st a week later in St. Pete after mid race contact while battling inside of the top 10 with Graham Rahal. A week after that, he was collected in an opening lap crash at Texas and finished 20th. For the Indy 500, he had a top two or three car but that first caution caught him a lap down and he’d never make up for it. He’d finish 29th in a double points race. In Belle Isle, the first race saw the field flip while he was running in the top two due to another ill timed first caution. He’d finish seventh. In Belle Isle 2, he had early race damage and finished 13th.
Now, it happened again.
If luck goes his way, he likely has at the very minimum four podiums right now. Instead, his best finish all season is fifth.
In Herta’s case, he’s had a front row starting spot in six of the 11 races. He’s led the third most laps all year at 154 but has just one win to show for it. Sunday is further proof on it doesn’t matter how good your car is, you need everything to go perfectly in this sport just to win a race.