Rahal optimistic as he moves up to third in IndyCar points

Graham Rahal sits in third place in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series points with four races left to go.

© 2015, Michael L. Levitt

WEST ALLIS, Wisconsin – A third-place finish in the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 has Graham Rahal up to third in Verizon IndyCar Series points with just four races to go heading into Saturday night’s Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway. The son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART Series champion Bobby Rahal backed up his impressive victory at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California on June 27 with a podium finish at the Milwaukee Mile – his fifth podium finish in 2015.

Rahal was able to capitalize on Will Power’s early exit – the Australian crashing with Ryan Briscoe on Lap 131 – to gain another position in the season standings.

“As I said before Fontana, these next three races are big,” Rahal said. “We got a first and a third out of them. Going to Iowa, I think it’s going to be a very similar package. From my perspective, my team did a tremendous job. The last pit stop was awesome. I think the Honda fuel mileage was excellent because, frankly, I was planning to do a three-stopper. We kind of bailed on it. I was able to go about 10 laps longer than anybody else that first stint. That really helped. Gave us some flexibility particularly to come to the end. We didn’t have any concerns on fuel, which was nice.”

Rahal shares third place in the points with Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves, who finished second at Milwaukee after starting last in the 24-car field when his Chevrolet did not get to the qualifying line in time for Sunday’s qualifications. Both drivers are 69 points behind Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya and 15 points behind Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, but Rahal gets the edge based on having one win this season while Castroneves remains winless. Power is fifth in the points, just one point behind the two.

“To be tied with this guy (Castroneves) for third in points, getting closer to Will, getting closer to Dixie, it was a good day,” Rahal said on Sunday. “I like the condensed schedule, frankly. I thought it was pretty good. It’s just a tough day. All around, guys are working very hard. But I hope we’re back here. I hope we come back. I hope the fans keep turning out stronger and stronger. All in all it was a good points day.”

Rahal drives for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, a team jointly owned by his father, TV funnyman David Letterman and Chicago industrialist Michael Lanigan. The team has easily been the top performing Honda team this season and appears to have cracked the code on the complicated Honda Aero Kit.

Rahal has enjoyed a solid season since the first race and his consistency has helped get him to his highest position in the standings in years.

But even that may not be enough to win the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

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“Montoya has unfortunately taken off on us here,” Rahal said of the championship. “I’m not too worried about getting defensive. Our objective right now is to go forward and do the best that we can. We knew flat out I expected Penske, I expected Ganassi to be the ones to beat at Milwaukee. I expect it to be hard to beat them this weekend at Iowa. Those are the guys we’re contending with right now. I can guarantee you, when I was behind Helio, I was doing everything in my power to try to get by. I knew there were points on the line there. At the end of the day we had to settle for a good third-place finish. That’s kind of the objective of the season.

“If you got a third-place car, finish third. If you have a first-place car, win. So far we’ve done a decent job at it.”

Although the Honda teams have lagged behind the Chevrolets for most of this season, one area that Honda has over Chevy is fuel mileage. That was important in a race that featured lengthy green flag racing with only three caution periods.

“The Honda got excellent fuel mileage,” Rahal said. “I could have gone further than I did. On lap 60 we decided we were going to try to make it a three-stopper. Unfortunately we led there for a second, but all the guys that were on new tires that came out of the pits, they were so much faster, went sailing on by.

“By the time we came out, we went from a legitimate fourth to 10th or something. It was a little bit frustrating. At the end of the next stint, only 40 laps into it, we bailed off the strategy, came in, which I was a little shocked about. The three-stopper is only going to work if there’s one yellow or no yellows. If you have yellows, everybody is going to stop and it will equalize it out. In the end it didn’t really make a difference.”

Now it’s off to Iowa Speedway, a very fast, high-banked short oval that has little in common with the flat Milwaukee Mile. In seven starts at Iowa, Rahal has five top-10 finishes including three in a row. He was fifth at Iowa in 2013.

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“We were pretty decent at Iowa last year,” he said. “We’ll have to see how that translates.

“Our strength has not been ovals. Within the last couple years, we’ve been terrible. So I’m pretty shocked by the way that everybody has performed. It’s pretty awesome to see. I think it shows the resilience of this team. Being short-staffed, undermanned, they keep working hard, putting their heads down. It’s amazes me what these guys have accomplished.”

Rahal knows he is surrounded by tough competition between the two most powerful teams in the Verizon IndyCar Series – Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing.

But he isn’t giving up.

“Still got, what, four to go? It’s still not over, man,” Rahal said. “It’s been a great year. You got to thank all of our partners for that. We had five podiums this year. Finally got the monkey off our back getting the win two weekends ago. I have never finished in the top five in points. Really my main attention is paid to next weekend at Iowa. I feel like we’ll be pretty good at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, but Iowa is another challenge for us. Hopefully we can go out there and prove ourselves.

“You’re only as good as your last race. We’re going to keep our heads down and push as hard as we can to contend with these guys.”

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