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Rossi’s Yearning for Second Win Grows with Each Passing Year

Four years and three months have passed since Alexander Rossi, then driving in his first Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, won the 100th Running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” He continues to admit he didn’t know what being a winner of the race meant.

Rossi certainly does now, and with each bottle of milk enjoyed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he aches to experience the moment again.

“You don’t know what you don’t know, right?” he said as Sunday’s race inched closer. “Until you’ve won, you don’t realize how amazing it is and how special of an event this is to win. So, every time a year goes by and someone else wins, you know how cool the stuff they’re getting and getting to go do it’s like, ‘That sucks.’”

Rossi laughed at his word choice, but the pause was brief. He was serious.

“For sure, it adds fuel to the fire, and every year that you don’t win, the desire ramps up even more,” he said.

In this respect, it seems Rossi has won more at IMS than he has. An argument can be made that his victory in 2016 wasn’t one of his better drives. Oh, sure, he brilliantly followed the fuel-saving advice of Andretti Autosport strategist Bryan Herta, a five-time “500” starter, but he has been on the attack in each year since, leading all three races.

In 2017, Rossi led 23 laps and finished seventh. The next year he stole the spotlight by driving through the field – 32nd to fourth. Last year, he took the fight to Simon Pagenaud, leading 22 laps and passing the eventual winner with two laps left before settling for second.

There are comparisons with Rick Mears, another Californian who won the “500” early in his INDYCAR career. Mears appreciated each win a little bit more, something Rossi appreciates.

“Every year you come here, you realize how challenging it is to get it done and how all of the pieces of the puzzle have to fall into place,” he said. “Some (pieces) are in your control, and some aren’t, right?

“It’s a pretty magical event when it does happen. That’s what makes the race what it is, what makes the track what it is. We saw a perfect example of it on qualifying. What a cool story to have an Andretti on pole. We’ll have to see who’s the lucky guy on Sunday.”

Rossi, who had the third-fastest lap in Friday’s Miller Lite Carb Day practice in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda, will start ninth in Sunday’s race (1 p.m., NBC and the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network). He is one of six Andretti Autosport cars in the 33-car field, one of its four starting in the first three rows.

Rossi called that performance by Michael Andretti’s organization “phenomenal.”

“It’s tenths of a mile per hour that teams look for, and it’s the compounding of the tenths of a mile per hour that make up a mile-per-hour difference,” he said. “The fact that Andretti Autosport has been able to prepare six cars to this caliber and to have four of them fighting for pole, I don’t think it’s been done since I’ve been watching. That’s a huge accomplishment, and I can’t (understate) the effort it takes, especially in light of the fact we didn’t get to go through our entire Indy 500 prep program with restrictions that were brought in in March.”

Now, Andretti Autosport must deliver in the race to notch its sixth “500” victory since 2005. With pit stops and time spent on pit lane improved from recent seasons, Rossi thinks he can win.

“Up until (last) Sunday I wasn’t very confident in the car that we had, but we changed philosophies a little bit, and we have a great car,” he said. “It’s a car that was kind of feeling similar to what I’ve had the past several years, which is obviously positive.

“We’ll go and see what we can do.”

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