FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — That near-miss in Texas has certainly crossed Graham Rahal’s mind in the past year.
Probably much more than he will ever admit.
Rahal is back at Texas Motor Speedway, where last June he was out in front and seemingly on his way to finally winning again when he drifted too high and brushed the wall coming out of the fourth turn with two laps left. He finished second.
“My focus always quickly turns to the next event,” Rahal said. “You have to focus on what’s coming up, not what’s behind you, and so I’ve done that.”
Rahal is now driving for his father Bobby, the three-time open wheel champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Graham Rahal is in his first full season with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. It comes in the sixth IndyCar Series season for the youngster — he’s still only 24 — who had stints with Chip Ganassi and Newman-Haas. The Rahals’ plan all along was to let Graham have a chance to rise through the ranks on his own before working together.
“There’s no question that driving for all those other guys will help me moving forward,” Rahal said. “We always felt that I need to go out, build a reputation, build a name for myself and then someday I could come back to him, and we could work together. … We’re very fortunate that that plan has kind of worked out the way that it has.”
This will be the 25th IndyCar race at Texas, where the open-wheel series has now been 17 consecutive years.
Rahal qualified 19th in the 24-car field for Saturday night’s race, three spots ahead of defending champion Justin Wilson. Both later moved up two spots when other drivers were penalized for improper engine changes.
Before Dale Coyne Racing driver Wilson raced by Rahal to win last June, Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing had combined to win seven straight Texas races — and 10 of the previous 14.
Penske driver Will Power, winless since three victories in a row early last year, is on the pole after a four-lap qualifying average of 219.298 mph on Friday. Marco Andretti qualified second with a run of 218.222 mph.
Power was the series points leader when he got to Texas last year. He led 24 laps and was still in front on the final restart before he got penalized for blocking. After his drive-through penalty, he finished eighth, a lap down.
While there have been six different winners in seven IndyCar races this year, neither Ganassi or Penske have a victory even though Penske driver Helio Castroneves is tied for the season points lead with Andretti — who also hasn’t won.
“Certainly we know that it is extremely important to win races,” said Castroneves, who qualified sixth. “We are going into the mode, attack and get to the front and if it’s meant to be, it will be. We cannot be desperate.”
Castroneves is a three-time winner in Texas, tied with Sam Hornish for the most victories at the track. But he has never been a season champ.
“If it takes more second places than firsts to win the championship, then sign me in, and I’m ready to do that,” he said.
Castroneves has finished lower than 10th only one time this season, 13th in his hometown race at Sao Paulo. Andretti has finished seventh or better in all but the first race of the Detroit doubleheader last weekend, when he was 20th before moving to sixth the next day.
“I just want to be consistently better,” Andretti said. “We have been knocking on the door and like hanging and lingering around the top six. I’m pleased with the start of the season, but I’m not exactly where I want to be yet.”
Rahal is 14th in points after a pair of ninth-place finishes in Detroit. Teammate James Jakes was 10th in the first race at Belle Isle, then followed that with his first podium finish, second behind Simon Pagenaud.
“We’ve got some momentum, and I feel like this is a phenomenal organization” Rahal said. “It’s always a difficult thing to build momentum No. 1, and to, No. 2, keep it. We’re doing the best that we can to develop that, and certainly Detroit really, really helped. … We’re only going to continue to grow and get better. I think it’s simple as that.”
When Rahal won his IndyCar debut for Newman-Haas in the 2008 season opener at St. Petersburg, at 19 years and three months old, he replaced Andretti as the youngest driver to win an IndyCar race.
Last year’s race at Texas is among four second-place finishes for Rahal since his debut victory, including Long Beach in April. He has been on the podium three other times after finishing third.
“I really wish, of course, I would have won again before now,” he said. “I thought we would have had at least a few more wins. … I’ve had a lot of podiums, and each one of those results, all it takes is something to go slightly different and that’s seven wins.
“I could sit here all day and think about Texas and think about all the other races that I could have or should have won,” he said. “But at some point, you’ve just got to say, look my time is still to come.”
Note: Simona De Silvestro, Simon Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier were each penalized a 10-grid spot penalty for making unapproved engine changes since last weekend’s doubleheader in Detroit. De Silvestro dropped a full 10 spots, from her qualifying position of 12th to 22nd, a spot ahead of Pagenaud, who qualified 14th. Vautier, the only rookie driver, didn’t post a qualifying time and was already at the back of the 24-car field.