INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Alexander Rossi delivered a solid result for Andretti Autosport.
Otherwise it was another miserable – and perhaps expensive – Indianapolis 500 for Michael Andretti, who had started five cars on Sunday. Four finished 19th or worse, but Rossi rode from 20th to an Andretti-best fifth.
Not good enough for the team owner, who took the IndyCar title this season with 11 races to go.
“Alex has done a great job. He saved us from disaster,” Andretti told The Associated Press. “It just wasn’t a great month and the worst part is that the championship is pretty much out of reach.”
It came after May started making such a promise to the organization. Colton Herta, the rising star from California, won a rainy IndyCar Grand Prix two weeks ago. But nothing has gone right since then, especially in a double points race.
All five Andretti cars struggled to find speed. Herta blew an engine in qualifying and wrecked his car on Carb Day, and Marco Andretti also had a bad qualifying run. Only 500 rookie Romain Grosjean made the 12-car pole shootout.
Sunday’s results added to the team’s misery. Herta said IndyCar officials parked his car because he was driving too slow; Andretti said there was a problem with the accelerator. That wasn’t all.
“We were so loose, the loosest I’ve had on an oval like this, so it was frustrating,” said Herta, who settled on 30th. “Now all you can think about is what if (the Carb Day crash) didn’t happen.”
Grosjean was one of three drivers who spun off the track through the tricky second corner and crashed into the outside wall about half way through the race. He finished 31st.
Marco Andretti suddenly found himself three laps late at the front as other drivers pitted – the first he led at Indy since 2014 – but settled for 22nd after he also needed a pit stop. And rookie Devlin DeFrancesco finished 19th.
But Rossi, the 2016 Indy winner, executed the plan almost perfectly.
“When you get close, you start hoping and dreaming of bigger things, but that wasn’t meant to be today,” Rossi said.
Otherwise it was just another day of bad luck for Andretti. Mario Andretti’s 1969 win remains the only Indy 500 win in three generations of Andretti racing.
“Nobody knows that better than I do,” said Michael Andretti.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske celebrated his first 500 at full capacity with a crowd of more than 300,000.
Team Penske just couldn’t get him back to the victory lane.
After putting only one driver, Australian Will Power, in the pole shootout last weekend, none of the team’s three drivers finished in the top 10.
Josef Newgarden led the charge in 13th place and Power moved from 11th to 16th place. Penske’s most competitive car, Scott McLaughlin’s No. 3 Chevrolet, finished 29th after the New Zealander crashed into the wall of Turn 3, slid off the track, over the grass and hit the wall of Turn 4 twice with 48 laps to go.
Despite riding strong at Indy on the past two May and qualifying third for the 500, 21-year-old Dutch driver Rinus Veekay was the first driver to come out when he hit the wall of the second corner on lap 39.
“The car has come loose and once that happens there is nothing more you can do,” said the Ed Carpenter Racing driver. “Actually just a downer. I thought I had a good chance at it. It just took me by surprise.”
Callum Ilott, the 23-year-old rookie from England, also crashed into turn two in what was very similar to VeeKay’s spin. Ilott, who drives the No. 77 Chevy for Juncos Hollinger Racing, injured his right hand but was not seriously injured.
Grosjean and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson may have been the best-known names on the seven-rookie field, but it was 20-year-old David Malukas who took the top spot.
Malukas qualified 13th in Dale Coyne’s number 18 car, started 13th and drove a clean race, completing all 200 laps to finish 16th – one spot ahead of Kyle Kirkwood, the rookie with AJ Foyt Enterprises.
“It was very cool,” said Malukas, who raced a backup car on Friday after a crash during practice. “They said I had to go 95% of the way to the end, so I did. But I realize now that this song picks its winner. In a three-hour race there are so many opportunities to make things happen and the field is so good that if you make a small mistake you lose five positions.”
For the second year in a row, Conor Daly found himself late in the fray.
The Indianapolis native, who rides for Ed Carpenter and is the stepson of speedway president Doug Boles, rode from 18th to sixth thanks to some smart moves and good strategy.
“There was a lot of smart work on our side and the car was fast,” he said. “I thought our balance was better than others and we were able to overtake some people in the pits. We have a lucky yellow that vaulted us past a few people. We just lost a little bit on that last pit stop.”
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