In a race that may be better explained by watching the replay a few times, Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 was certainly a head-scratcher for Alexander Rossi and the No. 27 NAPA AutoCare crew.
While a mediocre qualifying effort had them starting 11th on the grid, Rossi’s car steadily improved throughout the race and he was moving through the field. In front of a packed house at World Wide Technology Raceway just outside St. Louis, the crowds cheered as he made bold moves on re-starts and was in a solid podium position.
But pit strategies and yellow flags stirred up the field on the 1.25 mile oval, and Rossi found himself stuck in a must-pit situation with 20 laps remaining. Shuffled to mid-pack, he was running hard to make up a couple positions, and crossed the finish line P13.
“I think we had the car and we drove it up to P3 on pace,” said Rossi. "It’s just the way the Series works and the way the yellows fall sometimes. I think the whole 27 NAPA Andretti Honda team did a really good job overnight, putting together a fast race car. We were able to get from 11th to 3rd and were content running up there and could run the same pace, if not quicker, than Josef."
Throughout the race, Rossi was running with or ahead of Championship leader Josef Newgarden, who had a chance to top-off on fuel during a late yellow. However, while running fifth in the final lap, he spun making a move on Santino Ferrucci, and finished P7.
"It can be frustrating,” said Rossi. "[Newgarden] spins and is unaffected; crashes in Toronto and is unaffected. It’s just the way it goes. It’s unfortunate the way it goes down, the Series is really difficult. But we’ve got two more to go and we’ll just keep our head down and try to win races.”
Three unlikely podium candidates stood on the box with Takuma Sato, Ed Carpenter and Tony Kanaan finishing in the top spots. Simon Pagenaud finished fifth and passed Rossi in the Championship standings. Newgarden leads Pagenaud by 38 points and Rossi by 46 points with two races remaining. (FULL RESULTS
The NTT IndyCar Series immediately heads west for next Sunday's Grand Prix of Portland. Live race coverage on NBC begins at 3 p.m. ET (noon PT local) with the green flag at approximately 3:45 p.m.