Alexander Rossi has been quietly "collecting points" through the first three races of the IndyCar season.
There's been nothing spectacular about his start to the season — finishes of fifth, ninth and fifth and five total laps led — but it could be the strategy that leads him to his first IndyCar championship. Rossi learned last year in losing the title to Scott Dixon that salvaging decent finishes on mediocre days is the clearest path to a title.
"The big thing is minimizing the bad days," Rossi said Friday. "Last year, if we look at us compared to Scott, we were pretty much the same across the board except the days where I had a 12th or 15th, he'd have a fifth or a ninth."
Next up is Sunday's race on the temporary street course in downtown Long Beach. Rossi won from the pole last season, the first of three victories that put him in a race to the finale with five-time champion Dixon.
Rossi had a small setback at the start of his weekend when a cut tire in Friday's first practice session shortened his track time because Andretti Autosport didn't want to burn another set of tires. He understood the need to look at the bigger picture, which he's done through the first three races. He thought his fifth-place finish at Barber last week was close to a victory for him because of his previous struggles at the Alabama track, and he's fourth in the standings.
Only problem? Dixon, also winless so far this season, is second in the standings and was fastest in Friday's second practice. Rossi was sixth in that session, behind teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was fastest in the morning and right behind Dixon in the afternoon.
The second session was competitive with 19 of the 23 drivers separated by less than a second.
"It's a lot closer than I thought," said Hunter-Reay, a previous Long Beach winner.
Dixon and teammate Felix Rosenqvist put two Chip Ganassi Racing cars in the top-three of the second practice, while Andretti had three cars in top 10 and Team Penske had two cars.
Dixon, typically a slow starter every year, already has a pair of runner-up finishes this season. He credited rookie teammate Rosenqvist for elevating the Ganassi program.
"The car feels like it's in the window, we're just trying to make it a little easier to drive," said Dixon. "It's quite nice that Felix and I have a pretty similar feeling. I haven't had that kind of crossover for a few years. He's a big talent. It's great to work with him. He's a good person, someone that's definitely going to push the team hard but also I think someone that's bright for the future of IndyCar, which is definitely needed."
Rossi doesn't seem concerned, focused only on scoring his first win of the season and not approaching Long Beach as if it's the track where his season must hit another gear.
"I'd like a trophy because I'm just annoyed we haven't gotten one yet," he said. "I think we're very much in touch. It's a long season. There's so many guys now that we can talk about, list off that are going to win races this year. You're not going to have guys win five races any more, I don't think.
"So it's about the days you're not winning, to be close enough, always being in the conversation, right? You can't have weekends where you qualify 16th, 17th. You need to always be in the top six or seven, every week. I think if you can do that, naturally, it's just going to come."