Rossi dominates Pocono for third win this season

Image by Abbott/LAT

Rossi dominates Pocono for third win this season

IndyCar

Rossi dominates Pocono for third win this season

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In a race that will be remembered for a messy start followed by a massive crash, Alexander Rossi dominated Sunday’s ABC Supply 500, leading 180 laps for his third win of the year and closing the championship gap to Scott Dixon.

Rossi finished almost 4.5 seconds clear of Will Power, who was looking to win his third straight race at Pocono and become the first driver to win three straight 500-mile races since Bobby Unser in 1981. Scott Dixon was third, 41 seconds back.

The race start was rendered irrelevant when Graham Rahal clipped the right-rear corner of Spencer Pigot, spinning the Ed Carpenter Racing driver into the wall while Rahal continued with a wounded front wing.

On the single-file restart six laps later, Rossi zipped past both front row men Josef Newgarden and Will Power to take the lead. However, that was forgotten moments later when Robert Wickens and Ryan Hunter-Reay made contact in Turn 2, resulting in a sickening wreck in which Wickens’ Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda climbed over Hunter-Reay’s DHL Honda, pirouetting above the SAFER barrier, ripping a hole in the catchfence and rebounding into traffic, mercifully without a secondary impact. Behind them, the accordion effect collected the second SPM Honda of James Hinchcliffe, Dale Coyne Racing’s Pietro Fittipaldi and Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s second car of Takuma Sato, all fortunately without serious injury.

Image by Dziadosz/LAT

After a delay of close to two hours, the race resumed with four laps of yellow before going green, then Rossi steadily built an early advantage on Power, Newgarden and Zach Veach through the first stint.

Scott Dixon spent the first third of the race running around eighth after making an extra early stop under yellow to replace a tire the Ganassi team had concerns about. But the championship leader’s race improved along with Marco Andretti with timely third stops aimed at gaining some clean air, vaulting up to fourth and third places, respectively.

Veach’s promising race was hindered when he lost his wing adjustment mechanism, facing the team to revert to old-style (and slower) ‘speed handles’ on pit stops, but the Andretti Autosport rookie brought home a sixth-place finish.

Rossi’s plain sailing lasted until Lap 90, when his lead of more than a dozen seconds over Power dissipated to under four as he struggled to put a lap on AJ Foyt Racing’s Matheus Leist.

Rossi and Power pitted together on Lap 105 — in adjacent pit stalls — without a change of position but some scrutiny from IndyCar officials when Power nipped the end of Rossi’s air hose — with an apparent assist from the Andretti crew, which left the hose farther out than usual. Power was issued a warning and “a post-race monetary fine” for hitting another team’s equipment, opting for a middle ground rather than a potentially win-determining penalty for the No. 12.

Pit stops continued to play a pivotal role as Rossi came in on lap 136. Power went a lap longer but zipped out and onto the track ahead of Rossi, but cold tires felled him as Rossi regained the lead in Turn 2 on lap 141 – a lead he didn’t relinquish.

“We came out in some traffic – it was really, really hard to get behind cars for some reason today,” Rossi said. “It’s an exceptional day, but right now, Rob and James and everyone involved in that [crash], Ryan, have our thoughts, and it’s tough to really celebrate after what happened.”

Power had one more shot to jump Rossi in the pits, but just before he dove in on lap 171, he went high while trying to pass the lapped car of Max Chilton and lost valuable seconds, clearing the way for Rossi to win his first oval race since the 2016 Indy 500.

“That’s when I actually thought we’d be able to jump [Rossi] again, but I got caught up with a lapped car coming out of the out lap, and almost went to the wall, came back, and had a missed shift on the out lap,” Power said. “Just a terrible exchange altogether.

“We weren’t quite good enough in traffic, Rossi was very good running in traffic. We just had way too much push. That’s all we could do. The guys had a great strategy, we went long – that’s how we jumped him, then it wasn’t good enough in traffic.”

Sebastien Bourdais initially did not want to get back in the car after the red flag was lifted, concerned by the repairs made to the gaping hole in the catchfence.

“When we saw the extent of the [fence] damage I had a pretty good idea that it wasn’t gonna get fixed properly, and it wasn’t,” he said. “The cables were loose, and it was just like, it was pretty lousy. So I wasn’t happy with it at all.”

Ultimately, Bourdais drove a solid race and finished fourth, unable to find a way around Dixon.

“It’s a tough spot,” said the four-time series champion. “We’re both in the Honda stable, he’s fighting for the championship and it was so hard to pass anybody today. Your only chance was for the guy in front to get checked up and wash out or something and your getting around. That’s how I got Veach, a couple of guys.

“But Scott’s so smart and he’s got so much experience back in the corner every time he’s feeling the threat and got a good run off. There was no way past, he didn’t put a wheel wrong the whole day.”

Tony Kanaan’s A.J. Foyt Racing Chevy retired on lap 16 with throttle failure. Also retiring early were Pigot, who retired one lap later from crash damage, and Conor Daly, who brushed the wall with 38 laps to go.

Rossi’s deficit to point leader Dixon has been cut by 41 in the past two races; he’s just 29 back.

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