Five quotes from the Fast 6 at Long Beach Grand Prix

The IndyCar drivers who qualified first through sixth at Long Beach on Saturday — Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal — held a smile-filled news conference after the session, cracking jokes and laughing through several exchanges.

Here are five of the best quotes from the Fast 6:

Josef Newgarden, on how impossibly close to the wall the drivers get at Long Beach:

“It’s kind of like when you’re pulling out of a parking spot and it’s tight on both sides and you back up and you start to turn and you’re like, ‘Man, am I going to miss that car in front of me?’ And your nose is like right there.

“Like 50 percent of the time, I’m just like, ‘Well, I think I’m going to make it. If I don’t, I hit him.’ (Shrugs)

“That’s kind of what it feels like. All the time on every lap, you’re just like, ‘Argh, I could hit — or maybe not.’ Most of the time you don’t. That’s what it’s like for me. It’s kind of fun.”

Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud on starting alongside each other Sunday despite their incident at the start of last year’s Long Beach Grand Prix:

Rahal: “(Last year) was like a very minor love tap.”

Pagenaud: (Scoffs in disagreement.)

Rahal: “It’s going to be a lot harder to hit him when he’s next to me. So if I’m going to do it again, I’m going to try really hard to do it.’

Pagenaud: “I think you were next to me…”

Rahal: “No, I was behind you and…”

Alexander Rossi: “It was like a torpedo.”

Pagenaud: “Yeah, a torpedo!”

Rahal: “That’s Power’s issue now, right?”

Will Power: “You behind me?”

Rahal: “Yeah.”

Power: “The difference is I’m from Toowoomba, see, and we fight.”

Rahal: “I’m really not worried about you. I’ve got like 50 pounds on you.”

Pagenaud: “I might not brake in Turn 1 just to make sure I don’t get hit.”

Rahal: “Actually, I would be perfectly fine with that. If you want to do that, that would help. You could like take out everybody and I’ll be good.”

Simon Pagenaud, off to a poor start this season, on proclaiming he was “never gone” after he made the final round of qualifying:

Pagenaud (deadpan): “It’s just my ego coming out. I’m a pretentious person, so I just said these things. Why not say it, right?”

Reporter: “I was wondering if you’re feeling unloved or ignored or if there’s something going on…”

Will Power, his teammate: “I have been ignoring him a little bit.”

Pagenaud: “Actually I have plenty of love, mostly from Will, a lot from Josef (Newgarden), too much sometimes. But no, I feel confident, so I think ego comes out when you’re confident. I think that’s what’s going on maybe.”

Reporter: “Do you have a chip on your shoulder?”

Pagenaud: “A chip? Chips are for dogs, I think. So I don’t have a chip, no. It’s all good. I’m pretty focused, 100 percent. Yeah, might have shown some aggressiveness, fire — and that’s not a bad thing.”

Alexander Rossi, responding to a reporter who said it was tough to pass at Long Beach:

“I don’t know how true that is. I don’t think it’s that hard to pass.”

Graham Rahal on why the drivers seemed so happy after making the Fast Six (final round of qualifying) but not winning the pole:

Rahal: “It’s not even the top six anymore. You feel like if you’re in the top 10, you’ve been solid. Didn’t used to be that way. Obviously, we’d all like to be on pole. It would be even better. But I think you really have to feel a sense of like accomplishment as a team. You can see it across all our mechanics, too; everybody is happy. You make it to the Fast Six, you’ve really done something.

“In my first years in this, if you made it to the Fast Six then you were like decent. And nowadays it’s just like the gap — like this morning, 1.1 seconds across from 1st to 25th over a street course this long (almost two miles) with all the bumps and curves and this and that — nowhere else in the world will you find racing that competitive, period. So I think you should feel proud if you had a good day.”

IndyCar at Portland: Sometimes, racing comes down to luck

Shame on those of us who saw Scott Dixon disappear into a cloud of dust on Lap 1 of the Portland Grand Prix and thought his race was over.

How foolish. How absurd. After all, even casual followers should know Dixon is IndyCar’s MacGyver — able to escape seemingly any situation, even when it looks dire.

Dixon somehow — improbably, incredibly — salvaged a fifth-place finish on Sunday when his day looked screwed from the start. Not only that, he took advantage of untimely cautions and misplayed strategy that affected fellow title contender Alexander Rossi, allowing Dixon to actually extend his lead by three points — to 29 overall — going into the season finale.

These are the kind of things that only seem to happen to Dixon. If you described such a scenario to someone in IndyCar and didn’t attach a name, everyone would know you were referring to the driver of the No. 9 car.

“We got super lucky today,” Dixon said. “You’ve got to take those days.”

Drivers predicted a sketchy start to the race all week, and that’s exactly what happened. As part of a multi-car wreck on Lap 1, Dixon was shoved into the dirt and felt a significant impact — though he couldn’t see what he hit.

“I felt like I wanted to cry,” Dixon said of sitting there while the dust cleared.

He didn’t expect his left front wheel would still be attached when his vision returned, but there it was. And as it turned out, Dixon had the presence of mind to pull the clutch while the crash was occurring — allowing him to keep the engine fired.

While others left on a hook, Dixon somehow put it in reverse, told the safety truck to move and drove away.

“I couldn’t believe the thing was still going,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a pretty lucky day from that point on.”

But that wasn’t immediately evident, because he was tagged for a speeding penalty midway through his comeback and saw all the gains erased.

“I thought on that point, we were definitely on the out,” he said. “Crazy, crazy day.”

Again, though, it’s foolish to count out Scott Dixon. So when his team stuck to a two-stop strategy (the same as race winner Takuma Sato) and Rossi made three, Dixon got the track position needed to extend his points lead.

“Huge day for us points-wise,” Dixon said, then added with no apparent sense of irony: “This might be our lucky day.”

Meanwhile, Rossi looked a bit stunned in the aftermath of his good day gone bad. He had a faster car than Dixon, but was done in by circumstances not of his own doing.

Rossi quickly dismissed the suggestion the damage was minimized by losing only three points to Dixon heading into Sonoma.

“That’s a nice way of putting it,” he said. “It was a terrible day.”

Season of Rossi: Can Alexander cap roller-coaster campaign with title?

As an unexpectedly large crowd lined up for Friday’s IndyCar autograph session at Portland International Raceway, one of the first people in line to get Alexander Rossi’s signature was a young boy wearing NAPA gear.

It’s something Rossi has noticed more lately now that he’s frequently been in the spotlight — for various reasons.

“It’s been very cool for me to see from Year 1 until now — almost the end of Year 3 — the amount of people wearing my shirts and hats and wanting to talk to me at autograph sessions,” he said. “That’s really increased. So that’s a huge positive and something I’m happy about and something I hope will continue to grow as the years go on.”

If you’re a fan of Rossi, it’s more likely to be based off his racing style than his personality. That’s not to say he lacks in the personality department; heck, he competed on a reality TV show and co-hosts a podcast, so that’s clearly not the case.

But the self-described introvert does most of his talking on the track, where his no-apologies driving styleballs-out racing ability and eye-opening talent have made people sit up and pay attention more than ever this season.

Rossi’s moves can be controversial at times — depending on your view — but you can’t accuse him of settling for anything.

“He’s definitely gone after it and been aggressive and raced to win a championship,” Will Power said. “That’s what you’ve got to do.”

Winning the 100th running of the Indy 500 two years ago was a major accomplishment. But given it happened nearly right away in his IndyCar career and he was a virtual unknown to many American race fans at the time, it wasn’t something that launched him into stardom by itself.

But now, having found his rhythm with three victories in 2018 — after winning twice in his first two years combined — Rossi is on track to becoming one of IndyCar’s biggest stars.

I love this championship and everything it represents,” he said after arriving in Portland for Sunday’s race here. “I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be here. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”

It wasn’t always that way, because IndyCar was never the goal for Rossi. He chased Formula One dreams and ultimately made starts in five F1 races. But his home ultimately became IndyCar after getting an opportunity with Andretti Autosport.

These days, he’s hoping to be the next American who could carry the banner as a champion in the United States’ biggest open-wheel series — one year after Josef Newgarden did the same.

I think it’s massive for the series (to have an American champion),” Rossi said. “(As) Americans, it’s hard to cheer for the French guy or an Australian guy. As much as we love them and respect them and admire what they do, Americans are patriotic people, right?

“Americans winning is a great thing for a growing fan base and hopefully inspires more young American racing drivers and go-karters. It’s a cool thing to be able to represent the U.S. in a U.S. series at U.S. tracks.”

If he pulls it off, he’ll have completed an impressive comeback. After the Toronto race on July 15, Rossi was third in the point standings — 70 points behind four-time champion Scott Dixon.

Three podium finishes later (two wins and a runnerup finish last week at Gateway), Rossi is down by just 26 points with two races to go.

Oh, and the season finale at Sonoma? It’s a double points race.

“Scott has been a model of consistency, as he always is, and he’s won a bunch of races nevertheless,” Sebastien Bourdais said. “Alex has been so flamboyant and just hitting it hard out of the gate that I think if it comes down to a dogfight at the end, he might have the edge. But we’ll see.”

Will Power wins the Indy 500, but Alexander Rossi wins the show

Alexander Rossi found it hard not to smile after pulling off an impressive feat during the Indy 500. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

Alexander Rossi kept saying he was disappointed not to win the Indianapolis 500 after finishing fourth on Sunday — and no doubt, that’s true.

But he could barely hide a smile while surrounded by reporters on pit road after the race, because Rossi knew he just did something pretty cool.

After starting 32nd — second to last — on the most difficult passing day in the last half-dozen years at Indy, Rossi nearly ended up on the podium. And he seemed to will himself to the front thanks to gasp-inducing moves on multiple restarts, where he improbably made the outside lane work.

Rossi said it wasn’t a matter of having giant balls, but rather “just opportunity, man.”

“It’s not anything to do with anything else,” he said. “You try to make the most of the opportunities that are presented to you.”

Come on, though! Other drivers weren’t making those type of moves work — or even daring to try them, seemingly. Rossi did, and put on the most memorable show of the Indy 500 despite losing out to Will Power.

“It’s just a different mindset,” he said of starting at the back. “You’ve got to expose the car. You’ve got to do some things you’re uncomfortable with and hope they work out.”

They did. It’s fitting Rossi was accompanied Sunday by several of his fellow contestants from last season of The Amazing Race — winners Jessica Graf and Cody Nickson, along with Kristi Leskinen (Team Extreme) — because that was certainly a fitting description for how he drove. Leskinen snapped photos of the media mob surrounding Rossi on pit road to ask him about his feat.

Rossi has a subtle approach to answering questions and doesn’t seem to get caught up in his own hype. But he acknowledged the good day in his own way, noting this year’s new IndyCar made it so “your ass is clenched around here quite a bit of the time.”

When Rossi was asked about his level of confidence in making those moves, he basically gave a verbal shrug. 

“Confident enough,” he said. “I mean, you never know. The inside was blocked, so sometimes there’s not any other option. And I’m not going to lift, so…”

12 Questions with Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi prepares to make laps during Bump Day for the Indianapolis 500. (Photo: Action Sports Inc.)

The series of weekly driver interviews continues this week with Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner. Rossi, who drives for Andretti Autosport, enters this year’s Indy 500 ranked second in the Verizon IndyCar Series point standings. I spoke with Rossi during a promotional tour Tuesday in Portland. (This interview was recorded as a podcast but is transcribed below for those who prefer to read.)

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

Never, really. Unless it’s a bad day. And then I don’t think it’s dreams, it’s just not being able to sleep — because you’re constantly replaying what happened and what went wrong. But I never have the good dreams about racing.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

I don’t think so. The result is what it is. I think if it’s someone you have a good relationship with off-track, you’ll probably talk to them. But if you don’t, then no.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

The biggest compliment someone could give me is probably that you’re a good racing driver but also a good person. As much as we define ourselves as race car drivers, outside of that we’re just normal people and human beings who are trying to do good things in the world.

4. IndyCar comes to you and says, “Hey, we are bringing a celebrity to the race and we’re wondering if you have time to say hi.” Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host?

Ryan Reynolds.

You didn’t have to think about that for very long.

Nope. Deadpool. He’s pretty cool.

5. In an effort to show they are health-conscious, IndyCar offers the No. 1 pit stall selection for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for a month. Would you do it?

I don’t know that it’s a big enough advantage to go vegan, so I would not do it. I like meat — I eat meat pretty much every day, so I don’t think I could give that up. Conor (Daly) would. Conor is a part-time vegan. So I think he’d probably be the first to go for that.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I have picked a random race from your career and you have to guess where you finished. This is the 2015 Formula One Mexico Grand Prix. Do you remember where you ended up?


That is correct! Are you good at remembering races?

I’m pretty good at remembering races, yeah. That one I wasn’t as sure of as other ones, but obviously I had a pretty good idea.

What were those days in F1 like for you?

Awesome. I mean, that was my dream. That was what I had worked to do for 15 years. The fact I finally got the opportunity to be a Grand Prix driver — although it was only for five races — was pretty special. Regardless of the fact we didn’t have a competitive car to win races, that was a dream come true for me. I’ll definitely cherish those memories.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

I have a lot of respect for Jay-Z, so we’ll go with him. Just him as a businessman in general. Beyond his rapping, just him as a brand is pretty amazing. It’s something I think a lot of people can aspire to be like him.

8. Who has the most punchable face in IndyCar?

Oh, do you want a list? (Smiles)

If you have one.

That’s a mean question. We’ll go with Charlie (Kimball).

Just because of his face, or do you actually want to punch him?

I don’t want to punch Charlie. He’s just got that look about him.

9. IndyCar enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your strategist, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

Well, I feel like Tom Hanks should be the spotter because he’d be the most analytical. Considering the relationship you have with (spotters), you’re kind of putting your life in their hands in a remote way.

Then LeBron is going to be a better strategist than Taylor Swift, and I also think it would be pretty cool to talk to him during a race. He’s the one you’re bouncing ideas off of, so that’d be great. He’s the king.

Then that leaves Taylor as a motorhome driver, which would mean my motorhome didn’t get anywhere, I don’t think. I wouldn’t imagine she’s that good at that — she might be! That might be very prejudiced and rude. She might be an excellent driver. But I feel like she doesn’t drive a lot of places — I feel like she gets driven. And hey, when you’re that level, you should (get driven).

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

I don’t know there’s a key, but it’s definitely something we all scout out. And of all places for there not to be an abundance of bathrooms, it’s the Indy Motor Speedway — which I think is ridiculous.

There’s as much as a panic to get to the restroom before the national anthem for the 500 as there is a panic getting into Turn 1 on Lap 1 of the 500. Like it’s ridiculous. I don’t understand how they think it’s OK to have the highest-attended race in the world and have like four bathrooms. Boggles my mind.

11. Carl Edwards used to do backflips when he won a NASCAR race, and IndyCar decides it wants something similar. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

Well, they would have to pay me a lot to break my neck. That would be a pretty high medical bill for them. So it would be a pretty astronomical number. (Laughs)

We also have a lot less height to start that from (than NASCAR cars). I don’t think anybody is going to be able to pull that off.

Yeah, you’d pretty much have to backflip…

…from the ground. Which none of us are doing.

12. Each week, I ask a question given to me from the last interview. Last week, I interviewed Erik Jones. He wanted to know if IndyCar is about how hard you guys can drive the car with all the downforce you have, or is it like it super finesse where you’re trying to get the car through the corners that way? (Editor’s note: The Erik Jones interview will run next week. The order was switched to get an Indy 500 winner as the 12 Questions leading into Indy 500 week.)

That’s a great question. It’s both. With the downforce on a high-speed corner, it’s more about who is willing to muscle it though the most. Even though there’s a lot of downforce, the car is sliding and moving around a lot. So it kind of rewards bravery and commitment.

But then the slower speed corners, because there’s a lot of downforce, it’s also drag. We don’t have a huge amount of horsepower for the amount of downforce/drag we create. So you’ve got to be pretty precise with it in order to get the power down quickly and extend your full throttle time.

It’s a tale of two worlds. I would say it’s more finesse required on a street circuit versus a short oval or a road course.

The next interview I’m doing is with a yet-to-be-determined NASCAR driver. Do you have a question I can ask him?

What is your opinion of Danica?

Oh man. I would love to know this.

Me too.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Bristol and Long Beach races

Five thoughts after NASCAR’s race at Bristol and IndyCar’s race at Long Beach…

1. Urgency and impatience

Bristol was the best race of the year so far, and it pretty much has lapped the competition in what has been largely a ho-hum season to this point.

It’s a shame only a few thousand people appeared to be in the stands after a postponement and many were stuck at work on a Monday, because the “old” Bristol everyone has been clamoring for — a dominant bottom groove — was back.

At least for a day.

The combination of the sticky PJ1 compound, the freezing weather and a top groove that never really got rubbered in — thanks to both short runs and the rain — meant the place to make passes was on the bottom. And impatient drivers, knowing the race could end any time if another rain/sleet/snow cell came through, frequently used the bumper to make their way to the front.

Even Kyle Busch’s winning pass on Kyle Larson was a bump-and-run — something that couldn’t be achieved in recent years when the top was the fastest lane. After all, you can’t bump someone out of the way when you’re already next to the wall.

This might have been a fluke situation, given the temperatures. When NASCAR returns to Bristol in August, the bottom might not be dominant anymore.

But at least this was one weekend where the conditions — despite being less than ideal for those in attendance — actually helped make for a great show.

2. Short tracks rule yet again

My favorite part about watching racing is when you can see the driver making a difference in the car. I’ve never cared that much about watching a dominant car that is faster than everyone else; I want to see extremely talented drivers perform and put on a show.

Bristol was another example of a short track bringing the drivers into the equation more than a typical NASCAR track. What made Monday’s race so fun to watch was the various drivers working their way into the top five and having to make decisions on how to work through lapped traffic and preserve their tires.

Look at Bubba Wallace, for example: There he was, battling with Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch for the race lead. And then he nudged Keselowski out of the way and actually took the top spot! It was very exciting to see a rookie driver do that, because that kind of thing just doesn’t happen on the typical NASCAR oval.

Ryan Newman was up there having a good run for much of the race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. challenged for the win. Jimmie Johnson reminded everyone he’s still the best driver in history. And viewers could see that a big reason their cars were up toward the front was because of the drivers.

That’s what I love to see, and I assume others watch for the same reasons. Wouldn’t it be nice to see that type of action on a weekly basis?

Once again: More Short Tracks, please!

3. A grand Grand Prix

The Long Beach Grand Prix was the first time in memory I covered a race for work but sort of wished I attended for fun instead.

That’s because everyone I walked by just looked so damn happy. People were enjoying the sunshine, margarita in hand, watching race cars go by all day. You could sit in the grandstands if you wanted to, or change your angle of the race by walking around the course to see various turns.

There was music, a convention hall full of displays and activities, go-karting and, of course, the spectacular scenery (Want to stare at the harbor while race cars drive by in the background? You can!). I could easily picture walking around with my future children and having a relaxing family outing.

It was glorious. It’s no wonder the Grand Prix said more than 185,000 people attended over the course of three days — up slightly from 183,400 last year.

But who are the people that attend? Are they race fans — those who follow IndyCar or IMSA and know the drivers — or are they people who show up because it’s a festival that happens to have a race?

I asked roughly a dozen people that question during the course of the weekend, both on the record and in casual conversation. The most common answer was about 50-50, though no one went higher than 60 percent race fans. And some went as low as 30 percent race fans.

Personally, I think it was closer to the smaller number. As an experiment — admittedly an unscientific one — I watched 100 people walk by and made a tally on my notepad for every person who was wearing racing-related clothing of some kind (even if it was Formula One or a shirt displaying vintage cars). Out of those random 100 people, only 27 wore any type of apparel that would identify them as someone interested in cars or racing.

Now, I’m not saying all race fans wear racing merchandise — and perhaps in a different area of the track, I would have gotten a different number. But the point is, I’m convinced the majority of the people there were either casual fans or not fans of racing at all.

And…that’s perfectly fine! There’s no problem with that. What’s great about having a race right in a city is you bring the event to the people. There’s still the usual opportunity for any hardcore race fan to attend, but it exposes the product to potential new fans as well.

But even if the attendees don’t become fans, those people still paid to get in the gates, along with whatever they spend on food, drinks and shopping.

“Every track should be doing stuff like this,” eventual Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi told me via phone last month. “If you want families and people to come out, you make it an event and talk about all the things you can experience. That’s a positive thing. You’ll get people in the door that maybe would never be there otherwise, and maybe you get some of them hooked on racing in the process.”

Defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden said when he meets people at Long Beach, he can tell many of them are just there for the party. But there are also plenty of true fans who bring him old-school racing gear to sign, which shows there’s “a really nice blend of (people).”

“When you put on a street course race, it is kind of like a festival and a party, so you want people to just show up and have a good time and enjoy the atmosphere,” Newgarden said. “But it’s also nice to have those purist racers who are here for the action and want to see the race, and I think you get a good mix.”

More than 185,000 people attended the Long Beach Grand Prix over the course of three days this year. (Photo: Action Sports Inc.)

4. The garage and the paddock

Prior to covering this IndyCar race, I had been to every NASCAR race weekend so far this season. And I have to say, the general vibes couldn’t be more different.

In NASCAR, there’s a sense of gloom as the ratings have continued to decline. There’s the familiar hand-wringing over the direction of the sport, frustration at the racing getting overshadowed by things like penalties or pit guns, and a high degree of sensitivity over anything perceived as negative. It feels like NASCAR is always fending off one crisis after another.

But in IndyCar, there’s a sense of optimism and enthusiasm. The drivers seem happy to be there and they openly speak about positive changes (like the new car). When you talk to people who work in the IndyCar paddock, they truly feel their sport is going in the right direction.

And yet…NASCAR’s attendance and viewership still dwarfs IndyCar on a weekly basis. So in theory, people in the NASCAR industry should have reason to be happier and IndyCar should be discouraged about the relative lack of attention. But it’s the opposite.

I don’t have the answer for why that is, other than IndyCar seems to already have endured its most challenging stretch and is now on the rise while NASCAR hasn’t bottomed out yet during its decade-long slump.

5. Points leaders

Busch and Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi might race different types of cars, but they have something in common so far this season.

They’ve both emerged as the drivers to beat in their respective series.

Kevin Harvick got the attention with his three wins, but Busch’s last six races have been ridiculous — two wins, three runner-up finishes and a third-place finish. Busch is now the NASCAR points leader by 59 over Joey Logano.

Meanwhile, Rossi leads the IndyCar points by 22 over Josef Newgarden in a series that does not have a playoff.


After Long Beach, veteran driver Will Power said IndyCar right now has “the most competitive, talented group of drivers the series has seen.” And out of all those great drivers, Rossi is out-pacing everyone.

“When you look at what Rossi did this weekend — man, really, really strong,” Power said. “I think he’s going to be tough to beat in the championship. He’s definitely what I’d call a standout of the field right now in every respect.”

Alexander Rossi doesn’t mind controversy after Robert Wickens incident

Alexander Rossi lost control of his car and took out Robert Wickens on the final restart of the IndyCar season opener in St. Petersburg two weeks ago, sparking an ongoing debate about the move.

The two friends moved on quickly — they were at the gym working out together 48 hours later, Rossi said.

But even then, the controversy over Rossi’s attempted pass was still raging online. And as Rossi sees it, that’s a pretty damn good thing.

“I think the reaction was great,” Rossi said by phone this week. “I mean, people were talking about the race a week after the fact. When has that happened before? That’s amazing.”

There hasn’t been a race since then, and it will be two more weeks until the series returns to action at Phoenix. But if IndyCar can manage to keep its positive momentum going for that long, the series appears to be off to another promising start.

IndyCar has been on an upward climb of late. In the last year, Fernando Alonso left the biggest Formula One race of the season to drive in the Indy 500, IndyCar got a refreshing young American champion in Josef Newgarden after a close points battle, the series brought a redesigned car to the track, had two drivers shine on The Amazing Race during the offseason and this week announced a new TV deal with NBC Sports.

If that’s not enough, Rossi’s incident with Wickens — one of several promising rookies as part of IndyCar’s youth movement — put the focus firmly on the racing action to start the year.

With nearly two weeks to reflect on what happened, Rossi has the same stance he did in the moments after the race: He saw a chance to win the race and went for it. Unfortunately, his car slid in the marbles and sent Wickens into the wall.

“Rob’s a good friend of mine, so I would have loved to be on the podium with him, no doubt,” Rossi said. “But looking back on it, from my side I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”

Rossi called it a “misconception” he had any intention of taking Wickens out.

“I don’t think people really understand,” he said. “It’s probably silly to admit this, but we don’t have as much control as fans would actually think. Like I can’t control a rear slide to be 30 degrees and just hit someone at a certain point to not damage my car but hit them enough to spin them out. That’s not a calculated thing to happen.

“It wasn’t an idea I had, like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to be able to pass him, so I’m going to hit him out of the way.’ Like that’s not a thing. It was simply a situation where we were both going for the same piece of real estate.”

The good news in circumstances like that? There’s a chance to see the same two drivers battle again in a similar scenario. The next street course race is in three weeks at the Long Beach Grand Prix, which Rossi was promoting in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Of course Rob has every right to be upset. If I was in his position, I would have been upset, too,” Rossi said. “You move on, right? We’re here to win races and championships. At the end of the day, there will be 16 more chances to fight it out.”

That other Amazing Race

Speaking of an amazing race, Rossi’s deep run on the CBS hit reality show with Conor Daly (they made it to the season finale before getting eliminated) is something he doesn’t mind discussing.

After all, he went on the show to help promote IndyCar. And he hopes it worked.

So far, he hasn’t been recognized as a direct result of the show (a woman who spotted him at the Toronto airport was the only one he could think of). But winners Cody Nickson and Jessica Graf were at the recent IndyCar test in Phoenix and plan to come to the Indy 500, along with Team Extreme’s Kristi Leskinen and Jen Hudak.

“(The producers) like it to be known as a true reality show, and I can tell you that is accurate,” Rossi said. “There were zero second takes. There was no ‘Act like this’ or ‘Have this emotion.’ Everything you saw was something that really happened.”