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Lots Of Eyes On Rossi – Including Those of Penske?

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 27 2019
Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi powers through Turn 5 at Road America. He won last weekend’s IndyCar Series race at the Wisconsin road course and won it by a bunch. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Alexander Rossi altered the NTT IndyCar Series championship landscape with his dominating victory in Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix. And despite Rossi’s rout, plenty of fans tuned-in to watch.

The Andretti Autosport ace led 54 of 55 laps around Road America’s 4.014-mile/14-turn permanent road course in Elkhart Lake, Wis., en route to victory over Team Penske’s Will Power by a massive 28.4391-seconds. Rossi earned his second victory of the season and seventh of his four-year career. More importantly, the 27-year-old Californian closed to within seven points of Josef Newgarden’s championship lead with seven races remaining.

Incidentally, Rossi’s contract with team-owner Michael Andretti expires after the season-ender at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 22, marking him as the most sought-after free agent of the impending Silly Season.

“It’s in God’s hands,” said Rossi, answering a post-race inquiry about his future, which likely will include an offer from rival team-owner/INDYCAR deity Roger Penske. “It is.”

Recall that Newgarden, also of Team Penske, exited Texas Motor Speedway with a 25-point championship advantage after holding off Rossi during a 10-lap shootout to win the annual DXC Technology 600 night race on June 8 in Fort Worth.

Driver Alexander Rossi sends his Andretti Autosport crew to the showers.

“It was good to be able to look into things after Texas, kind of understand what was our mistakes, what was bad luck and the source of it,” said Rossi, a three-time runnerup this season. “To come out and be able to do what we did is a huge testament to the whole organization. It’s what we needed.

“For whatever reason, we haven’t had a good result here. Took four years to even get in the top-10. As I said at the beginning of the weekend, we’ve always had pace, but just haven’t closed the deal on Sunday. To be able to not only close the deal, but do it in the way we did, feels good. I love this racetrack. I love the crowd. I love the energy that exists here from the fans. It’s a special one for me, I’m sure.”

Normally, a runaway victory like Rossi’s translates into an afternoon of channel surfing. But the event now reigns as NBC Sports’ most-watched INDYCAR race on record, excluding the 2019 Indianapolis 500. Sunday’s race averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 1.109-million viewers. TV-only viewership for Road America on NBC was 1.104-million viewers, with a 0.77 HH rating. The Average Minute Audience across NBC Sports’ streaming platforms was 4,900 viewers.

Indianapolis led all markets with a 3.59 rating followed by Milwaukee with a 2.61. Additionally, viewership for the first five races on NBC is up 19 percent compared to ABC’s five total races in 2018, according to Nielsen and digital data from Adobe Analytics.

Starting second, Rossi passed rookie pole-sitter Colton Herta of Harding Steinbrenner Racing on the first lap and never was challenged. The only lap Rossi did not lead came on the last of his three pit stops in a caution-free race. He returned to the top of the leader board when Graham Rahal made his final stop one lap later.

“I told the guys on the radio, once I crossed the checkered flag, it was the best car I’ve ever driven. I think there’s a lot of truth to that,” said Rossi, referring to his No. 27 Honda. “I don’t care how well you’re driving, what sort of talent level you’re perceived to have, you can’t do anything without a car underneath you. The Andretti Autosport group I think was strong all weekend. Ryan (Hunter-Reay) had some bad luck in qualifying, otherwise he would have been right up there, as well.

“This is something that each weekend we’re trying to improve upon our weak areas. We’re able to continue to chip away at it.”

The field heads uphill to the starting line last Sunday at Road America.

Rossi is on a run of five finishes of first or second place in the past seven races, beginning with a victory at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 14. He is as close to the championship lead now as he has been all season. Newgarden, who finished third Sunday, has 402 points to Rossi’s 395.

“Obviously, you don’t want to complain about getting second places because they’re good results,” said Rossi, whose three runnerup results were recorded in the previous four races. “But it was just a win that we needed to do. We’ve been there and thereabouts, but the Penske cars were getting the upper hand on us. To be able to go out and win a race the way we did and state our intentions, we’ll regroup the next couple of weeks and come hard again in Toronto.”

Power started third in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet, moved up a position through the first round of pit stops and remained there to log his best finish of 2019. Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet, followed a similar path to his teammate _ starting fourth, advancing to third on the first round of stops and holding steady the rest of the race.

The third-place finish was Newgarden’s sixth podium result of the season _ including those series-leading three victories. But Newgarden admitted he and Power couldn’t match Rossi’s relentless pace.

“We obviously didn’t have enough today,” Newgarden said. “We were a little shy; probably a lot shy, actually. Alex and Andretti (Autosport), they were too good for us. We’ve got to come back to the drawing board, try to figure out what we’re missing. I have confidence we’ll do that.”

Rahal finished fourth in the No. 15 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Five-time/reigning Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing recovered from first-lap contact with Andretti’s Hunter-Reay that dropped him to last place in the 23-car field to finish fifth.

“I think had we not had that issue at the start getting turned around and losing 10 or so seconds, we may have been fighting for the podium today with the PNC Bank car,” Dixon said. “We had to kind of work our way back to the front all day. It is what it is, though. It happened and all you can do is put your head down and start to gain back that time.”

NBC Sports’ first broadcast of the Indy 500 on May 26 averaged a TAD of 5.475-million viewers, up 11 percent vs. the 4.913-million logged by ABC in 2018. Viewership peaked in the final quarter-hour, when 6.736-million viewers watched Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud out-hustle Rossi at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NBC will broadcast three more races this season for a total of eight _ an INDYCAR record for broadcast network exposures _ including the final two races of the season at Portland, Ore., and Laguna Seca, Calif.

The season continues with the Honda Indy Toronto on the streets of Exhibition Place. The race will air live at 3 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday, July 14, on NBC Sports Network and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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A legendary career that began over 60 years ago at Houston’s quarter-mile Playland Park came full circle Tuesday as A.J. Foyt Jr. received his Houston Sports Hall of Fame ring during a ceremony at the House of Blues.

Four major sports stars, including A.J. Foyt, were awarded rings after being named to the Houston Sports Hall of Fame. They are, left to right, golfer Jackie Burke Jr., Foyt, boxer George Foreman and NFL QB Dan Pastorini.

The diamond-encrusted ring emblazoned with a checkered flag was one of four unique designs by Fred Cuellar, one of the world’s foremost experts in diamonds and a renowned designer of jewelry.

The rings honor Houston sports heroes inducted into the Hall of Fame in February _ Foyt, first four-time Indy 500 champion; Jackie Burke Jr., 97, a Masters and PGA golf champion; George Foreman, 69, the two-time world heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist and Dan Pastorini, 69, the NFL quarterback who played nine seasons with the Houston “Luv Ya Blue” Oilers.

“It is fabulous,” Foyt, 84, said of his ring. “It’s one of the nicest rings I’ve ever had and I’m real proud of it.”

Asked to recall the most memorable moment of his illustrious career, “Super Tex” said, “I started here at Playland Park and my dream was to qualify for the Indy 500. Well, luckily enough, I got there and I was lucky enough to win it, so my dream came true.

“When I was racing at Playland Park and lived in the Heights, I never dreamed of a day like this. It’s been a wonderful town that I was raised in, and to be recognized in your hometown with three other greats that I’m good friends with, what else can you ask for in life?”

After the rings were presented, the athletes moved outside to unveil their plaques on the Walk of Fame located on Green Street. Each plaque features their autograph as well as their sport and the year of their induction.

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NTT IndyCar Series point standings _ 1, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 402; 2, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 395; 3, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 341; 4, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 308; 5, Will Power, Team Penske, 294; 6, Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 292; 7, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, 271; 8, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 244; 9, James Hinchcliffe, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, 216; 10, Felx Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi Racing, 209.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 27 2019
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