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…”

Danica Patrick’s life is about to get even better

Danica Patrick will run her final race on Sunday in the Indianapolis 500, but Phase 2 of her life is only just beginning. (Photo: Action Sports Inc.)

If you’re a race fan who has been bombarded with coverage of Danica Patrick over the last decade or so, you might feel an odd sense of relief as Sunday approaches.

Once the Indianapolis 500 concludes, the Danica headlines will fade from your Twitter timeline and shift solely to the sphere of celebrity news. You won’t have to send angry emails about the attention she receives being unwarranted based on her results, because there won’t be any results.

Thank goodness, you say. You’re sick of hearing about Danica!

But let’s pause for a moment and consider this question: If given the chance, would you honestly pass up the chance to switch lives with her?

Danica Patrick has lived a remarkable life to this point, compiling bullet points on a racing resume that will sound mighty good whenever she arrives at a speaking engagement.

Please welcome the highest-finishing woman in Indy 500 history, the first woman to win a NASCAR Cup Series pole and one of just 14 drivers to lead laps in both the Daytona 500 and Indy 500!

But her identity is about to become increasingly disconnected from racing — and that will only make Patrick’s life better from here. Once she steps out of the car for the final time on Sunday, any pressure and stress from existing in a performance-oriented spotlight will fall away, replaced by sunshine and freedom and positive vibes.

She’s already spent her post-NASCAR days traveling overseas, making waffles on Sunday mornings and planning weekend farmer’s market visits. She has gobs of money, a massive brand and, soon, all the time in the world.

At just age 36, Danica Patrick can do anything. She can go wherever she wants, whenever she wants; she can live her best life on her terms in her way.

Pretty great, right?

What will she do with that opportunity? Maybe she’ll do a cooking show. Maybe she’ll write self-help books. Maybe she’ll do a television project to positively impact lives.

In all honesty, she’ll probably sign up for something to challenge herself — like she did with hosting the ESPYs this summer. That seems to be a common thread with her.

But no matter what Patrick chooses, she seems uniquely positioned to make Phase 2 of her life into whatever she wants. It’s all there for the taking.

“I have definitely big dreams and aspirations for myself, for all my companies, for the kind of emotion I want to have on a day-to-day basis,” she said Thursday, looking relaxed as she spoke to reporters for an hour during Indianapolis 500 media day. “I’m looking forward to a good, easy, happy, calm, joyful, exciting, adventurous life. If I say I want it, there’s a very good chance that’s what I’ll get.”

That last statement isn’t bragging, but a reflection of her strong belief in the concept of “manifesting” — the power of writing down your goals. That’s a key Patrick says applies not only for herself, but for everyone.

On Thursday, she did an interview with her hometown newspaper in Rockford, Ill. and a reporter showed her an essay she wrote at age 14. In it, she wrote she wanted to be an IndyCar driver.

“I’m like, ‘See? If this isn’t an example of ‘Write that shit down,’ nothing is,’” she said. “This is manifesting. You have to write it down and you have to imagine what you want. So I do that as much as I can.”

The bottom line is you can’t switch lives with Patrick. And maybe you don’t want to.

But she’s at a place of enlightenment now, and listening to her blueprint for happiness might spark some ideas on how to bring more joy to your life, too.

“At the end of the day, what I think something people don’t talk about enough is instead of thinking your life is all laid out for you, take some charge of it,” she said. “Look at yourself instead of thinking everybody is going to fix you. And (don’t think) ‘If this happens, everything is going to be OK.’

“That’s a failing proposition, because you can’t guarantee that’s going to happen. What you can guarantee is your own emotions. So it’s about working on those.”

Patrick could very well be a successful self-help guru, spreading more of her techniques for a healthy lifestyle (as she did with her recent book). Who knows where it all could lead?

First, though, she has one more race to run.

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.

Scott Dixon still the Iceman after insane Indy 500 crash

The applause broke out almost immediately after Scott Dixon and Jay Howard’s cars slid to a stop, even before broadcasters were able to tell viewers both drivers were OK.

Fans in the stands at Indianapolis Motor Speedway saw Dixon moving inside his destroyed race car and realized that — despite contact with Howard, an unscheduled flight for Dixon and a bad-angle landing that could have killed him — the “Iceman” was alive.

And not only alive, but well.

Of course he was, right? He’s Scott Dixon, the man who can go to the local Taco Bell, get robbed with a gun to his head and basically shrug it off.

Dixon emerged virtually uninjured, save for a bum ankle that he said “was a little beaten up.” Even it’s broken, that would still be a near-miracle outcome from a crash that was one of the most frightening wrecks in years.

One reporter asked Dixon if he’d ever been in a scarier wreck than that one. His response: Meh.

“They’re kind of all similar,” he replied. “You’re just riding along and waiting for the big impact. And there were a couple (of big impacts) in that one. So probably more than normal.

“But as we’ve seen, especially throughout my racing career, the safety adjustments and all they’ve done — it’s a testament to the safety that we have.”

Not everyone was as cool about it as Dixon.

Friends Dario Franchitti — whose career was ended by an airborne crash — and Sebastien Bourdais — on crutches after breaking his hip last week in a wreck here — quickly arrived at the infield medical center as reporters waited outside.

Dixon’s wife, Emma, was on the scene as well — and even spoke to the media about her emotions.

Emma had gone back to the couple’s motorhome to use the bathroom and flipped on the TV right at the moment of the crash. She told reporters everything was “moving really slowly in that moment for me,” but was massively relieved to see the safety team’s rapid response and the good news for her husband shortly thereafter.

It’s been an eventful week for the couple — from Dixon’s pole position to the Taco Bell robbery to this.

“It’s insane,” she said. “It’s just been amazing highs and amazing lows. I just thank God he’s OK and I’m just so happy he’s OK.”

Meanwhile, her husband made his way down the long line of waiting media. Dixon calmly relayed what happened in the crash and seemed just fine with repeating himself again and again, continually popping a smile.

And why not? Dixon may not have won the Indy 500 on Sunday, but he walked away with breath still in his body.

After his horrifying crash, that seems like a victory in itself.

Indy 500 Impressions: Race Day

My typical beat is NASCAR, but this week I’m at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to experience the Indy 500. I’ll be posting daily updates from the track. Today: A timeline of Indianapolis 500 race day.

4:50 a.m.

I’m absolutely wide awake and wired — and I haven’t even had any coffee yet. I’m already at the track, and I feel like bouncing off the walls of the media center.

I woke up at 3 a.m. — 30 minutes before my alarm — and decided I might as well get ready and hit the road. I’ve never been to an event where 300,000 people are expected, so I figured it would be best to beat the traffic if possible, and I could always sleep in the car if necessary.

But when I pulled into the muddy parking lot at 4:10, I was too pumped to think about sleeping. My adrenaline is already turned up, and I’m ready for the world’s greatest automobile race.

I walked into the track (the media gate was already open, although the public gate doesn’t open until the 6 a.m. cannon boom) and was greeted with blanket of silence. The pagoda lit the night like a lantern, and all was quiet except for the sound of golf carts driving around with workers preparing TV live shots and equipment for the day.

It’s a thrill to be here.

7:05 a.m.

The cannon sounded an hour ago, and a flood of people immediately started streaming through the gates. The place is already buzzing — and whistling, thanks to the yellow shirts — and everyone seems to be in a good mood. Some are in a better mood than others, perhaps thanks to some early-morning drinking.

There’s something about the atmosphere, even just after dawn, that seems important. I ran into a couple of race fans from Sacramento who are attending their first Indy 500, and they said, “It feels like an event.” That’s a good way to put it.

It’s fun to think about how this same race day rhythm has been happening here for decades, down to the minute. Tradition is such a major part of the draw here, because Hoosiers have grown up experiencing the same pattern, year after year. Life may change, but the 500 doesn’t.

My Indiana-born wife, Sarah, has only missed one Indy 500 in her life — but she’s missed several Thanksgivings and Christmases at home. The one year she skipped it, she was in tears — longing to be with her family and filled with regret. The whole “Back Home Again” thing is more than a song to people here.

The funny thing is, I don’t think Sarah cares about the race itself anymore (she goes to the Snake Pit with her brother these days), but the tradition of attending is part of her heritage. Her grandparents and extended family all come to the race as well.

It must be so cool for lifelong attendees of this race to be greeted by the wave of memories when walking through the tunnel. Children who once held their parents’ hands here have grown up and now bring kids of their own, toting their little backpacks while the adults drag the coolers.

10:35 a.m.

Damn, Indy 500 race day is absolutely lit!

I went to check out the legendary Snake Pit, which I’ve heard so much about. There were expected to be nearly 30,000 people in attendance there today (it’s an add-on from the general admission race ticket), which is impressive considering it’s basically a separate event.

Adventure Club was playing, and they put on a good show (I saw them at Electric Daisy Carnival last year). Sure enough, even though it was only 9 a.m., the Snake Pit crowd was already going off.

The Snake Pit is allllll young people. Probably 99% of the crowd is under 25 years old. There’s a very high-tech, festival-worthy stage capable of spewing smoke and fire, and the bass is so loud, you honestly would have no idea you’re at a racetrack (a hill on the backside makes it a semi-enclosed venue).

It’s hard to believe two of the world’s top DJs, Zedd and Marshmello, will be performing there in a few hours. They constantly travel all over the world for concerts and here they are at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Speaking of Marshmello, I got a text from SportsBusiness Journal’s Adam Stern saying ‘Mello was in the media center. So I rushed back from the Snake Pit, looked through the media center and couldn’t find him. Damn.

But he had to be somewhere, so I started looking on pit road. Sure enough, Marshmello was walking around with his team. Mellogang from all over, including IMS President Doug Boles, greeted Marshmello and posed for pictures. Few things make me happier than seeing two of my passions — EDM and racing — colliding.

Anyway, just over an hour until the green flag.

12:40 p.m.

The start of the Indy 500 was probably the most exciting sports moment I’ve experienced since being at the Belmont Stakes for the Triple Crown win in 2015.

We all see the pageantry of the 500 every year, and it’s everything you’d expect and more to feel it in person. The call of “Drivers, to your cars,” the playing of taps, “Back Home Again” and the balloon launch, the starting of engines and the parade laps — the excitement just builds and builds.

I’m pretty sure everyone had full-body chills at various points during the pre-race ceremonies. By the time drivers actually took the green flag, the energy built to a fever pitch and people just let out this huge “YEAHHHHH” at the start of the race.

It’s pretty badass.

5:57 p.m.

Well, I’m sad this day has come to an end. This was one of the more fun experiences I’ve had in awhile, and I can see why people come back year after year. It was an honor to be in attendance.

First of all, the race itself seemed to have everything: Lead changes (35!), different leaders (a race-record 15, nearly half the field) and lots of passes (871). There were aggressive moves, crazy restarts and enough crashes to prove how much the drivers were pushing the limits.

Second, the atmosphere was just so, so cool. It’s always special to feel like part of something big — and that’s definitely the case at Indy based on attendance alone (let alone the significance of the race). And the track itself does a great job with this event; despite the complaints about the yellow shirts, they keep things running smoothly.

Third, I enjoyed experiencing a different form of racing. There are some similarities between NASCAR and IndyCar, sure — but there are a lot of things each could learn from the other. I’d like to see both sanctioning bodies work together more to lift up all forms of motorsports in the United States. Fans don’t have to choose just one.

I know dollars are scarcer these days and overall interest might be down, but that’s exactly why generating more enthusiasm for racing in general is a good thing. Whether it’s NASCAR or IndyCar, help more fans get to know and love racing; then everyone wins.

Indy 500 Impressions: Saturday

My typical beat is NASCAR, but this week I’m at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to experience the Indy 500. I’ll be posting daily updates on some differences I see between NASCAR and IndyCar.

For someone used to NASCAR race weekends where there’s always something on the track, the Indianapolis 500 schedule is a bit odd.

Saturday — the day before the biggest race in the world! — was dark as far as on-track activity. Many of the media didn’t even bother showing up because there was nothing to “cover” and no one to interview.

Now, there were definitely things for the public to do. It started with a one-hour autograph session in the morning — which the full field participated in! Can you believe that? Even Fernando Alonso sat outside and signed autographs for an hour. That was sort of mind-blowing to me, but it’s just part of the tradition here.

What else is part of the tradition? A public drivers meeting that is largely for ceremonial purposes. The drivers already had their actual closed-door drivers meeting on Friday morning — so this was mostly to hand out awards (like a trophy for Alexander Rossi’s win last year) and rings given to all 33 starters in this year’s field.

I’d say roughly 5,000 people attended the drivers meeting. It wasn’t very exciting, but it was a chance for fans to see the drivers and feel part of the experience. IndyCar went over some of the rules and regulations for the race — so there was a competition element — but I’m pretty sure the drivers already heard those same instructions on Friday.

After that, the drivers boarded buses for the annual 500 Festival parade downtown, which is a popular tradition in the city. Some people never miss that parade, just like they never miss the 500 itself.

Then it got sort of quiet at the track. There was a run-through of the pre-race festivities (an opera singer is rehearsing “God Bless America” as I write this). And there’s a Keith Urban concert scheduled for tonight in the infield (it’s a $40 ticket on top of the $10 Saturday ticket), but that’s pretty much it aside from walking through the garages (they’re open to the public today) and a memorabilia show.

Personally, this feels weird. I’d be more comfortable running around getting interviews today in advance of the massive race tomorrow; instead, it’s almost like a day off.

One person who has been around Indy for awhile told me Saturday is sort of like a hangover day. People party so hard on Carb Day, they need that extra day in between Friday and the race anyway.

So I guess it’s a day of rest in many aspects, which is fine. After all, tomorrow is the greatest day in racing, and everyone will need plenty of energy for that.


Other Indy Impressions:

Friday (Carb Day)

Thursday (Media Day)