Even before NTT IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden made his last-lap mistake in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio to allow other championship contenders to close their season point gaps, Alexander Rossi expressed confidence about a late run for the championship based on the four remaining races.
That the Andretti Autosport driver is now just 16 points behind Newgarden heading to Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway is an unexpected bonus.
Speaking of last season, Rossi said: “We’ve won at Pocono, we should have won at Gateway and we were leading Portland, so we’re good at all of them. Our worst track is out of the way, and we are very confident in the remaining races.”
Last year, when Rossi finished second in the championship to Scott Dixon, he won at Pocono and was runner-up in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. Rossi was quick in the Grand Prix of Portland, but a pit stop when teammate Zach Veach spun proved costly as most of the other frontrunners didn’t pit and were able to finish the race on one fewer stop. Rossi had to settle for eighth place.
Indy cars haven't raced at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca since 2004, so the double-points season finale might be a bit of a wild card for many contenders, but not Rossi.
“He’s raced at Laguna plenty growing up,” said Rob Edwards, Andretti Autosport's chief operating officer. “He’s a California kid at a California track. We feel good about Laguna."
Rossi, 27, is from Nevada City, California, so he considers Laguna Seca a home race.
“We feel good, but (it's) tough competition, right?" Edwards said. "Scott (Dixon), Josef (Newgarden) and Simon (Pagenaud), it’s going to be fun down the stretch.”
Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti echoed the confident outlook.
“I think on paper the tracks that we have left are good for us,” Andretti said. “Hopefully we can back that up. But for sure, we feel good about what’s left.”
Rossi's confidence has grown since coming so close to a championship last year. He has reiterated all season that his focus has been on winning a series title.
“We’ve been there before, right?” Rossi said. “We know how to win at those places.”
Newgarden’s best finish at Pocono has been runner-up twice, and he was fifth last year. The Team Penske driver won at Gateway in 2017 and had the same bad luck as Rossi with an untimely pit stop at Portland last year and finished 10th.
Pagenaud has some ground to make up from third place, 47 points behind his Team Penske teammate. The 2016 series champion’s best finish at Pocono was fourth in 2017, and he was eighth last year. His best result at Gateway was third in 2017, and he was fourth last year. He finished sixth at Portland.
Dixon, the five-time series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing, won at Mid-Ohio last month to improve his fourth-place standing to 62 points behind Newgarden. Dixon won at Pocono in 2013 and finished third there last year. He was second at Gateway in 2017 and third last year, and he escaped unscathed from a first-lap incident that put him into the dirt to finish fifth at Portland.
Rossi, who drives the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda, admitted after Newgarden went off track while trying for a last-lap pass at Mid-Ohio is the kind of break that was most unexpected.
“I’ve had it go the other way plenty of times. We’ll take it,” he said. “It’s days like (that) where you’ve got to get points. Fortunately, luck was on our side.”
Rossi said he would rather be leading now than being a close second, “but beggars can’t be choosy.”
Next up, Pocono, as the plot thickens.
“We just need some more race wins,” Rossi said. “Pocono is a track we’re fast at, so hopefully we can execute there.”
Next up for the NTT IndyCar Series is Sunday's race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. The ABC Supply 500 is the first of four races to close the 2019 season. NBCSN will have the television coverage at 2 p.m. ET (green flag at 2:45 p.m. ET). The Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network provides the radio call, with coverage on SiriusXM Radio (XM 209, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970). Qualifying is Saturday at 12:30 p.m. (delayed on NBCSN until 2:30 p.m.).