FORT WORTH, Texas – Graham Rahal thrust his arm out of the cockpit and into the air even before crossing the finish line at Texas last year, unable to contain the emotions that came with finally winning a race.
Rahal didn’t have to wait that long this year to celebrate a victory – or two.
With IndyCar reaching the midpoint of its 17-race season Saturday night at Texas, Rahal is coming off a sweep of both races at Detroit last weekend that moved him from 15th to sixth in the points standings.
“I’m definitely happy with where we’re at. It gives you a lot more peace and comfort knowing we’ve got a couple of wins already,” Rahal said. “We’re climbing back into that championship hunt and we can just focus on going and winning more races and running up front a lot.”
At Texas last August, when the rain-interrupted race was finished 2 1/2 months after it began, the last lap was the only one Rahal led and it was capped by the closest IndyCar finish in Texas Motor Speedway history. He won by eight-thousandths (0.008) of a second, crossing the line only inches ahead of and side-by-side with James Hinchcliffe, with Tony Kanaan right behind them.
After first lifting his arm over his head, Rahal quickly glanced to his right to make sure he had won after slicing to the bottom of the track coming off of the backstretch on that final lap. He has watched the replay many times.
“It’s hard to hold back when you had the year that we had. We expect ourselves to be championship contenders and to win races,” he said. “But when it takes you to that far in the season to get a race win, you feel pressure, and it was hard to hold back on that.”
Only after the race did Rahal find out that his grandmother had died.
“Perhaps a little divine intervention played a role there,” Rahal said.
The 28-year-old Rahal qualified 11th for Saturday night’s race at the 1 1/2-mile Texas track, which has been repaved with turns 1 and 2 reconfigured after reduced banking created a wider racing surface. Charlie Kimball is the polesitter , and series points leader Scott Dixon is on the front row with his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate.
In the last 30 IndyCar races, Rahal has five wins driving for his father at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Only Simon Pagenaud’s six wins are more in that span, and Will Power also has five. Rahal says it’s good company and he is proud of the achievement.
“When those guys do find their stride, they do become very, very competitive,” Dixon said. “Maybe they could be getting on a roll now.”
The season got off to a bad start for Rahal, who didn’t even finish a lap at Phoenix, where he was involved in a multicar crash right after the green flag.
But after that, Rahal finished sixth in the Indianapolis Grand Prix and then led two laps at the Indianapolis 500 on way to a 12th-place finish. He led 96 of 140 laps overall while winning both races at Belle Isle last weekend.
“Lots of rights, lots of wrongs, still there are things we probably could have done better. But not many,” Rahal said. “Special place for me, and for our team, and clearly to get two wins like that, there’s nothing like that.”
And now he is in Texas, a place where he has won before – and where his image is part of a track promotion. The first 20,000 fans arriving for Saturday night’s race will get a Graham Rahal bobblehead doll.
What Rahal wants is the life-size version of the doll that was in the media center Friday.
“I’ve already asked them,” Rahal said. “When they’re done with it, I want that sucker. I think it’d be hilarious in my basement.”
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review's sports newsletter
Get the day's top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.