That day, Rossi led 80 of 85 laps en route to a victory of more than 20 seconds. It was his second straight win on the scenic Southern California beach side street circuit. He led 71 of 85 laps a year prior.
The Andretti Autosport driver seemed to be on a quick path to a championship once he won his second career NTT IndyCar Series race in Watkins Glen during that 2017 season. From the Toronto race that season through the one at Road America in 2019, Rossi had six wins, 16 podiums and 22 top five finishes in a span of 33 races.
But, here we are.
Over the last 40 races, he’s yet to win, has just 8 podiums and only 11 top fives.
He was second in the championship in 2018 and third in 2019. But, this dip started during the middle of that ’19 season which is why he didn’t hoist the Astor Cup championship trophy that season and why he’s hasn’t yet overall. He was 10th in the final standings last year and currently 16th now following an 8th place result in Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
He hasn’t won a race since Road America in 2019. He led 54 of 55 laps that day. In fact, that was the 10th race of that season. At that point, he had led in 7 of the 10 races to account for 182 laps led.
But, over the last 40 races during this winless streak, he’s led a total of 95 laps. He led 83 laps in 2020, two last year and 10 in St. Pete. That’s it.
Also during this 40 race drought, he has finished 17th or worse in 7 of his last 19 starts. He had 6 finishes of 17th or worse in his previous 47 races.
The prime of his INDYCAR career is being wasted and he’s not anywhere near to where he expected to be in his career path in terms of success yet.
That’s why this weekend in Long Beach was a great time for them to get it right again. This was his place to shine. He was second and fourth respectively in practice and qualified his No. 27 Honda in fifth.
It has him in striking distance and looking closer to where he was in 2019 than of the past three years.
The thing is, even in the few times he’s had cars capable of winning, he’s been taken out on contention still in these types of moments. That has him frustrated with himself and the team in general.
In a contract year, Rossi elected to not necessarily just reup with Andretti. He’s waiting to see how things play out this season to decide what direction his future will go.
“Yeah, I think that’s completely true,” Rossi said on Saturday when asked if he and the team are both evaluating each other for the future. “That’s how it’s been since the start of the year. Obviously it hasn’t been the start that any of us have wanted for a myriad of reasons.
“Today was a good day. This weekend has been fine. Yeah, tomorrow is an important day for a lot of reasons, that not being the most important. We just need to get a good result and get the year going. That’s the main focus. Whatever else comes is life.”
Well, here we are again with a car capable of a podium but one narrowly inside of the top 10. That fifth place start hindered him. Felix Rosenqvist held him up at the start. So much so, he fell 8 second behind the leader on the first stint. Once he finally got by Rosenqivst on Lap 20, his tires were shot. He faded some before having to pit on Lap 26. Now, instead of a potential podium, it was a fight to finish in the top five.
He was there before a slow second stop due to an issue on his right rear tire. A top five was now gone as he had to just settle for a top 10 in his 100th career start. It was his 61st top 10 and first of the season, but it’s not ideal.
They went backwards all day and none of it was the fault of the driver.