Alexander Rossi can’t catch a break.
For the second time in four races this season, the driver of the No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda finished 20th or worse. This time, 2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Rossi was caught up in a Lap 1 accident on the start and finished 20th in the XPEL 375 on Sunday evening at Texas Motor Speedway.
Rossi was hit in the right rear by Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 14 ROKiT / AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, after Bourdais was hit by Pietro Fittipaldi’s No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda, and sent into the outside wall before he was struck again by the No. 4 K-Line Insulators/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet of Dalton Kellett.
The challenging start to 2021, which includes a 21st-place finish at St. Petersburg nestled in between a ninth at Barber Motorsports Park and an eighth Saturday at Texas, mirrors Rossi’s challenging start to the 2020 season.
Last year, he opened the season with finishes of 15th, 25th, 19th and third before eventually finishing ninth in the points standings and ending the season with four podium finishes in the final five races.
But Rossi insists 2021 is not 2020, namely because he believes his Andretti Autosport team can contend for wins if not for the bad luck they’ve encountered.
“A lot of people are already drawing comparisons of this year to last year, and while last year we did get taken out before a green flag, the difference was we never really felt like we had a car to win,” Rossi said. “I feel like that’s a lot different this year. Andretti Autosport has done a really good job with giving us the tools we need. It just hasn’t been meant to be yet, but there’s been a lot of different factors. Ultimately, we’ll just keep our heads down and do what we’re doing.”
After successful offseason testing, the entire Andretti team felt optimistic about its chances to contend for wins in 2021. Rossi’s teammate Colton Herta has proven the speed is there with a win in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Speed or no speed, Rossi is still mired in 15th in points after a race weekend he saw as extremely valuable, offering drivers two chances to earn points before heading into the Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Now, his charge through the points standings begins again at the GMR Grand Prix on Saturday, May 15 on the IMS road course.
Tough Break Ends Harvey’s Strong Start to Season
Jack Harvey might have endured an up-and-down weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, but he proved to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES paddock that he’s a weekly contender.
The box score from Sunday’s XPEL 375 shows the driver of the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda finished 17th after completing just 117 of 248 laps. What it won’t tell you is that Harvey was running fourth when mechanical issues struck his Meyer Shank Racing car.
Harvey said he felt a problem developing on the car, and with smoke trailing from his black-and-pink car, he headed to pit road and hopped out for what Harvey said he thought was a wheel bearing issue.
“It’s a disappointing day for everyone at Meyer Shank Racing,” Harvey said. “I hope (MSR has made a statement). At the end of the day, what we’re doing now is what we could do even last year; it’s just last year we missed it. Everyone’s working really, really hard.”
The tough break came a day after Harvey finished a solid seventh in the Genesys 300 and stood his ground when emotions ran high post-race with Graham Rahal after a daring duel for position between them.
Harvey, whose team shares a technical partnership with Andretti Autosport, had finishes of 11th, fourth and seventh before trouble struck Sunday in the XPEL 375.
Now 10th in the standings, Harvey stands a great chance for a strong rebound at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May when the NTT INDYCAR SERIES takes on the IMS road course for the GMR Grand Prix on Saturday, May 15.
The GMR Grand Prix is the sight of Harvey’s best career finish – a third in 2019, the only podium finish of his career. Always an impressive qualifier, Harvey’s career-best start is second. He’s done that three times, including at the GMR Grand Prix in 2020. His worst start on the 2.439-mile road course is seventh.
Tough Texas Weekend for Bourdais, but May at IMS Springs Hope
It was a weekend to forget for four-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Sebastien Bourdais at Texas Motor Speedway.
After scoring back-to-back top-10 finishes to open the 2021 season, Bourdais landed a 19th-place finish in the XPEL 375 following a disappointing 24th in the first race of the weekend at Texas Saturday night.
Yet again, Bourdais was hit from behind in an incident that was none of his doing. On the opening lap of Sunday’s race, Pietro Fittipaldi in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda hit the back of Bourdais’ No. 14 ROKiT AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet and sent Bourdais spinning into Alexander Rossi. From there, he was along for the ride.
“Clearly it was checking up at the front, which at this stage where we are we should be going, so I don’t know what was going on at the front, but that’s still not an excuse,” Bourdais said. “It’s the same thing as yesterday. When someone checks up in front of you, you should be in control of your car and slow it down. It’s a real shame that two days in a row we get drilled and taken out of the race, but nothing we can do about it. Nothing to take away from these couple of days.”
Less than 24 hours prior, Bourdais was victim of a similar incident.
On Lap 56 of the Genesys 300, Bourdais was running sixth when a couple cars bunched up in front him in Turn 2 trying to prepare themselves for a move to pit road. Bourdais eased off the throttle, but Josef Newgarden didn’t slow quickly enough. The driver of the No. 2 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet made contact with the four-time champion and sent him spinning into the outside wall. Bourdais was unhurt in the incident and finished 24th.
It was not the performance expected at the home track of A.J. Foyt Enterprises, who has a race shop in Texas near Houston, the home of the legendary A.J. Foyt. But now the team’s attention turns to their other home: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The team has a second race shop just down the street from the famed racetrack on Main Street in the Town of Speedway, and Foyt certainly knows is way around the Racing Capital of the World in the form of four Indianapolis 500 victories.
Bourdais has three fourth-place finishes in the GMR Grand Prix and a best finish of seventh in the Indianapolis 500. He and Dalton Kellett will be joined in the Foyt stable by Charlie Kimball and JR Hildebrand for the “500.”
Odds and Ends
- Winner Pato O’Ward made sure his first career win was entertaining. The Mexican driver dazzled fans in attendance and those watching on NBCSN with a host of breathtaking passes on 2014 champion Will Power, 2016 Texas winner Graham Rahal and two-time champion Josef Newgarden.
- While it was O’Ward’s first career win, it was McLaren’s first INDYCAR victory in more than 40 years. The last time McLaren visited Victory Circle after an INDYCAR race was April 22, 1979 when Johnny Rutherford won both races of a doubleheader at Atlanta. Three-time Indy 500 winner Rutherford was with the team this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway as an ambassador.
- For the second week in a row, a young race winner asked for permission to do celebratory donuts after their win. Colton Herta did it after winning the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and O’Ward smoked the frontstretch after winning the XPEL 375. But he had to ask for permission first. The engine that drove him to victory Sunday in Texas is his engine for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 30.
- Trey McDaniel, a local EMT in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, was honored by INDYCAR this weekend. On Feb. 11, McDaniel was on his way to work to administer COVID-19 vaccinations. While driving on Interstate 35, he was involved in a 133-car pile-up. After being injured in the crash, McDaniel exited his car and began assisting those who were also hurt on the scene. On Sunday at Texas, he was Mario Andretti’s passenger in the Ruoff Mortgage Fastest Seat in Sports before the start of the XPEL 375. “Oh, my goodness,” McDaniel said. “Words cannot describe how intense these machines are. The (G forces) these cars pull in the corners is like nothing I’ve felt in my entire life. It was incredible going around the track with Mario.”
- NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Scott McLaughlin said he received 250 text messages congratulating him on his career-best finish of second in Saturday night’s Genesys 300. He backed up the strong performance in his first-career oval race with another top 10 in the XPEL 375, finishing eighth in the No. 3 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet. He is eighth in the points standings.
- James Hinchcliffe will be happy to get out of Texas. After crashing out of the Genesys 300 on Saturday night and finishing 23rd, mechanical problems plagued the No. 29 Capstone Turbine Honda today. Shortly after the race restarted after a Lap 1 accident, Hinchcliffe took his car to the garage for repairs. His Andretti Autosport team attempted to fix the car, but Hinchcliffe was forced to retire early and credited with 18th place.
- If those gleaming NTT INDYCAR SERIES cars looked different from Saturday to Sunday, your eyes weren’t totally deceiving you. Three teams had to work hard to execute quick changeovers in the name of sponsors between the Genesys 300 and the XPEL 375. Alexander Rossi switched from his blue-and-yellow NAPA Auto Parts colors to the grey and pink of AutoNation for Sunday, while Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe switched from Genesys to #ShiftToGreen colors, and Tony Kanaan went from Bryant colors to The American Legion branding.