AUTO RACING: Rossi looks to have fun, pass cars at Indianapolis 500 | TheUnion.com

AUTO RACING: Rossi looks to have fun, pass cars at Indianapolis 500

Alexander Rossi has been a highly regarded professional race car driver for the better part of a decade. The skilled driver has competed in multiple circuits around the world and found success at the highest levels.

Now, in his third season on the IndyCar circuit, the Nevada City native is facing one of the more daunting challenges of his career ahead of the biggest races of the season: go from worst to first.

Well, second to worst to first.

Rossi, who drives for Andretti Autosport, will start at the back of the pack in row 11 and position 32 of 33 Sunday at the 2018 Indianapolis 500, his worst starting position in the three years he's participated in the race.

His poor starting position is due to a tire puncture during qualifying that drastically slowed the No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda he was driving.

Despite the setback, Rossi remained optimistic of his chances to win the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

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"There's a whole lot less pressure," Rossi said after qualifying. "You just try to have fun and pass as many cars as you can. This is the longest race we have, so there's plenty of opportunity to move up. I proved that in 2016. By no means is all hope lost."

Rossi will have 200 laps around the 2.5 mile oval to make up the difference.

When Rossi won the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 he started in 11th. A year ago when he finished seventh at the prestigious race, he started third.

The only driver with a worse position at this year's Indianapolis 500 is Rossi's "The Amazing Race" partner Conor Daly.

Rossi's rise in the IndyCar circuit has been steady as the former Formula 1 driver burst onto the scene in 2016 when he coasted to victory on gas fumes at the Indianapolis 500 and was named the IndyCar Rookie of the Year.

In 2017, Rossi continued his progression when he took the checkered flag at the Watkins Glen, finished the season with top-six finishes in six of the final seven races and placed seventh in the overall points standings.

Through five races this season, Rossi has finished in the top-five four times, including a victory at the Grand Prix of Long Beach, and is currently second in the overall points standings, just two points behind leader Josef Newgarden.

If he can somehow find his way from the back row to the front and earn a podium finish Sunday, it would further solidify him as one of IndyCar's brightest stars. No one has ever won the Indianapolis 500 from a starting position worse than 28. Ray Harroun, in 1911, and Louis Meyer, in 1936, both won the race after starting 28th.

Ed Carpenter of Ed Carpenter Racing won the pole for the 2018 Indianapolis 500. He'll be joined on the front row by Team Penske drivers Simon Pagenaud and Will Power.

The 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 will be televised at 8 a.m. Sunday on ABC.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email wford@theunion.com.

ALEXANDER ROSSI

Hometown: Nevada City

Age: 26

Years with IndyCar: 3

Wins: 3

Poles: 2

Top 5 finishes: 11

Top 10 finishes: 20

Finishes at Indy 500: 1st (2016), 7th (2017)

2018 Indy 500 starting position: 32nd