As Rossi Basks in Watkins Glen Win, Title Tilt Tightens
Rossi won the 60-lap race at iconic Watkins Glen International from the pole position on the same weekend it was announced he would return to Andretti Autosport next season in a multiyear deal along with sponsor NAPA Auto Parts. The 25-year-old Californian led a race-high 32 laps and drove the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda across the finish line 0.9514 of a second ahead of four-time Watkins Glen winner Scott Dixon.
Points leader Josef Newgarden finished 18th after his car sustained damage in a collision leaving the pits. The Team Penske driver saw his championship lead slip to three points over Dixon with the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, offering double race points on Sept. 17, remaining. Seven drivers are still mathematically alive in the title hunt. The Verizon IndyCar Series champion has been determined in the season's final race every year dating to 2006.
Rossi overcame a malfunctioning fuel probe on his second pit stop that left him short of Sunoco E85 ethanol and forced an earlier third stop than scheduled. From there, Rossi laid down laps at near-qualifying pace, regaining the lead on Lap 29 and building an advantage of more than 12 seconds. The full-course caution for Newgarden's incident on Lap 46 bunched the field, but Rossi kept Dixon, in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, at bay over the 11-lap dash to the finish.
The victory was the second for Rossi in the Verizon IndyCar Series and first since his memorable triumph in the 2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
"An amazing job by the whole team today," Rossi said. "We had an issue in the beginning with the fuel thing, but whatever. It doesn't matter, the team recovered. We had the pace to do it, but it's pretty amazing.
"It's a huge team effort. I've talked about so much how much we've improved, I'm so happy we're finally able to win."
Dixon, in search of a fifth season championship that would leave the 37-year-old New Zealander behind only A.J. Foyt (with seven) on the all-time list, had his own eventual day but was rewarded in points with the second-place finish.
"Definitely a good move in the points," Dixon said. "I'm kind of shocked we ended up where we did.
"I locked up coming in on the first stop on the wet (tires) and it wouldn't downshift, so almost stalled the car, got into the pits and we couldn't fuel it. And then we had a fumble later - we lost another four or five spots - so we had to pass a lot of cars today. ... Nice recovery by the team, ended up second."
Newgarden had just assumed the lead in the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet when he made his final stop on Lap 46 under green-flag conditions. Will Power - whose pit stall was directly in front of Newgarden's - barely beat his teammate out of the pits and onto the narrow, curving, downhill pit exit lane.
Newgarden locked his brakes avoiding Power and slid into the guardrail separating the pit exit from the track in Turn 1 of the 3.37-mile, 11-turn permanent road course. Sebastien Bourdais, also leaving the pits in the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda, hit Newgarden from behind. Newgarden continued but sustained front wing and right rear tire ramp damage. The 26-year-old Tennessean finished two laps off the pace and saw 28 points shaved from his championship lead.
"I felt like we were in a good position until that final pit stop," Newgarden said. "No excuse for it. It was my fault. I saw Will leave right in front of us and I just locked it up and slid over into the wall. Then (Bourdais) got into the back of me.
"It's unfortunate, but there's nothing I can do about it. We'll go to Sonoma in a couple of weeks and race for it."
Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third in the No. 28 DHL Honda to give Andretti Autosport two podium finishers. Helio Castroneves placed fourth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet and retained third in the championship, 22 points behind Newgarden.
Other drivers with a chance of winning the title at the Sonoma finale are: 2016 champion Simon Pagenaud, fourth in the standings (-34 points to Newgarden) after a ninth-place finish today in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet; Power, fifth in the standings (-68 points) after finishing sixth in the race in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; Rossi, sixth in the standings (-84 points); and Graham Rahal, seventh in the standings (-94 points) after a fifth-place race finish in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.
The race at Sonoma Raceway offers 100 points to the winner, 80 for second place, 70 for third and down from there. Live race coverage of the epic finale begins at 6:30 p.m. ET Sept. 17 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
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