LEEDS, Ala — I wrote on Friday that despite Andretti Autosport having 3 cars in the top 4 of the speed chart from the Barber Motorsports Park, that we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves before crowning them race winners just yet on Sunday. They started off like this in Long Beach too but only had 1 car in the top 5 in the end.
Well, here we go again they had to be thinking this morning and maybe even again right now with 3 of the 4 cars starting outside the top 7.
Alexander Rossi crashed in practice this morning but he also rebounded to qualify his No. 27 Dallara-Honda fifth still. It was a remarkable comeback since they had to change engines and rebuild the entire rear end.
What better way to reward his team than to earn a Fast Six appearance for them.
“It was unbelievable,” Rossi said of his car going from crashed to 5th in the span of a couple of hours. “Yeah, I think it was six of the guys involved, management involved. It was a big, big situation to do an engine and a gearbox. So, yeah, I put them in a very tough situation.
“It was amazing just to be out there in the first place, have the opportunity to compete and qualify. Obviously we knew that the car had been strong all weekend. We didn’t get a chance on the red tires, so the first run was kind of guessing a little bit.
“I was just pleased to be out there. I mean, obviously when you advance all the way to the end, you hope for a little bit more. Ultimately where we were two hours ago, I think everyone is relieved and happy that we got through that. Every result that we get this weekend is down to those guys, for sure.
“If we had not made qualifying, started 27th, you’re super screwed. This gives us a really good shot to have a good day tomorrow. Yeah, it’s because of those guys. Big thanks to them.
“I mean, it doesn’t really matter where you are anymore. It’s so hard to pass. It can be an oval, it can be a street course. It’s very, very difficult.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s a huge, huge thing to be able to be in the top six. Very happy about it.”
Now, is this the turn of events that can lead Rossi and Andretti to a happy future? Moments like they just faced can absolutely do so.
Heading into this weekend, the marriage between the two sides seemed murky at best and this is the exact thing that can turn a rocky status around.
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 in Long Beach 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.”
That race didn’t pan out either.
Rossi, had a car capable of a podium that day but one narrowly inside of the top 10 at the drop of the checkered flag. 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.
Over the last 40 races, he’s yet to win, has just 8 podiums and only 11 top fives.
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.
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 the 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.
They didn’t give up on each other after that practice crash and now he has another shot to get a much needed win on Sunday with a top five starting spot.