Alexander Rossi is trying to move full speed ahead from a career-changing accomplishment with the bottom-line demeanor of a driver who sounds like he’s done nothing.
It’s as if the 24-year-old Californian is intent on sticking to his routine as much as possible, but inevitably he’s bumped from his comfort zone by constant reminders that he has achieved something memorable.
Ten days removed from winning the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Rossi was asked why his celebration in Victory Lane seemed more reserved compared to past winners.
“Probably because I was in complete and utter shock,” Rossi said today in a conference call, “and I remained that way for the next five days.”
Keep in mind, this is a guy who didn’t have a ride in February and had never visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway until April. A lot has happened rather quickly.
When did the reality sink in about what he accomplished May 29?
“I don’t know if it fully has yet,” he said.
The Verizon IndyCar Series rookie says the most obvious lifestyle change has been a lack of sleep. And he didn’t actually go all out in rewarding himself for his first win.
“I took myself and my trainer out to lunch the next day, but that was about it,” he said. “Went to Jimmy John's and got some sandwiches, so that was pretty great.”
What would be even better for the Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian driver are a string of consistently strong finishes. The Indy 500 triumph jettisoned him in the series points standings – he’s now in fifth place after finishing 12th and 10th in last weekend’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans races.
Indy 500 victory aside, 10th place is the best Rossi has fared in the first half of the 2016 season. His other 10th-place finish was in the third Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He’s 115 points behind leader Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske with eight races remaining.
“We need more points, for sure. That's no secret,” he said. “I think the Indy GP was very positive for us. I think that 10th was not a really representative result for our performance that weekend. We had a penalty in the race that was pretty questionable in my mind.
“I think that at the road courses we have quite a good baseline, and I'm very much looking forward to the upcoming races there. I think (on) the ovals, we've been competitive at the two that we've had so far (Phoenix and Indianapolis). The real big question mark still remaining, I think, as a team is our street-course performance, and it's something that we need to work on and understand before Toronto (July 15-17). But I really feel very confident about the remaining races and the results we should be able to achieve.”
The series shifts to the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway for Saturday night’s Firestone 600, where Rossi will drive the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda.
“Texas is my favorite oval that I've driven on, actually,” Rossi said. “We had the one test there at the beginning of May and it was awesome. I really, really enjoyed it. We did a little bit of a group run towards the end of the day, and it was very interesting for me to kind of be on an oval where there were so many different lines. It's very high-banked, so it'll make the racing incredibly exciting and I'm very much looking forward to Saturday night.”
If competitors look at him differently since winning the Indy 500, Rossi hasn’t noticed. He said nothing has changed with his teammates, whom he credited for making the win possible.
One driver sought him out after the Indy 500 win. Graham Rahal spoke to Rossi about needing to take advantage of the accomplishment, not just for his own benefit but to help expand the popularity of the series.
“Graham was very right in what he said, and I spoke to him actually directly after the race, like 20 minutes after the race concluded on Sunday in Indy. He just pulled me aside for 10 seconds and he said, ‘Good job, and now you have an opportunity.’
“Those words kind of remained with me through the entire week (after the race), and I realize the importance and the significance of this race and how it can be used to propel the championship forward and to kind of just grow the sport in the States, especially as an American.
“I think that he was very correct in what he said, and I actually talked to him in Detroit about it. It's difficult at the moment because we have two (race) weekends immediately following (Indy), so focuses are a little bit already shifted. But definitely in the coming months we'll be doing everything that we can in order to continue to promote this championship and the Indy 500, and already looking forward to the 101st running.”
If that translates to losing more sleep, so be it.