This wasn’t like Indianapolis, when he drove for all he was worth and made several bold passes but eventually lost out to a little more horsepower.
No, what happened Saturday in Detroit was all down to good ol’ racing luck — the wrong kind.
For the second week in a row, Alex Rossi put together an excellent drive only to finish second to Team Penske. After losing by a couple car lengths to Simon Pagenaud at Indianapolis, Rossi finished second to Josef Newgarden in the first of two races in Detroit because of an untimely yellow flag.
The pole-sitter led the first 18 laps and, along with Scott Dixon, was in a class by himself on the tricky Belle Isle circuit, made downright diabolical by thunderstorms that forced the race to start late and be condensed to 75 minutes.
But, as often happens in street races, the fastest driver doesn’t always win.
Newgarden, running fourth two seconds behind Rossi, pitted on Lap 17 just as Ed Jones crashed. It was perfect timing for the 2017 IndyCar champion as it put him in front of the pack after everyone else made their only pit stops.
From that point on, Newgarden was flawless in his Penske Chevy despite relentless pressure from Rossi’s Andretti Autosport Honda.
“We controlled the pace in the wet, controlled the gap to Scott, had a great pit stop and a great race car, but things didn’t go our way,” said Rossi, who wound up 0.8 of a second behind his fellow American. “I’m not sure where Josef was when the yellow came out, but Scott and I seemed to be pretty well clear of the field.
“We were waiting to make our one pit stop and everything was going as we wanted, and he just got lucky with the yellow. We were flat out those last 10 laps and Josef didn’t make a mistake; he’s a great driver.”
It was the third time this season that a caution caught Rossi out — and cost him.
“It’s annoying,” continued the Long Beach winner. “The yellows have killed our race three times this year, but that’s IndyCar and it’s the same for everyone.
“There was really only one dry line; there was not much I could do. Josef [Newgarden] did a good job. I tried to push him into a mistake, but it didn’t come.
“It’s hard. I’m frustrated. I think we had the best car again today.”