Graham Rahal only led one lap this past weekend – but it was the lap that mattered.
The driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda won the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway with a last lap pass around James Hinchcliffe.
Rahal is one of only 14 drivers in IndyCar history to lead only the last lap of a race and
to win it, and the first since Hinch did at Sao Paulo back in 2013 coincidentally.
“Yeah, I had a really good car all night,” Rahal quoted. “It was a matter of trying to bide our time a little bit and dial it in slightly. We just needed to add some front wing, and then once we did that, I mean, the car really kind of came to us, and I didn’t really change anything after the first or second stop. Just trying to preserve my tires that last stint and get to lap 205 on the dash before I would pit so that I would have a short stint, 43 laps or so to the finish. Obviously we did that, and I played it just like I wanted to, and I came in, and those yellows came out, which was nice because it closed us up, because honestly I felt — I think I had the best car, I just kind of lost touch with Hinch, which sounds funny because he dominated. I just felt like if I could get back to him, if I could — that I felt like my pace was extremely good, and particularly for whatever reason tonight, my car would toe up really well.”
Rahal went on to say he knew if he could get up there, he’d have a chance to make it work. Battling four-wide at times in the middle, Rahal says they were lucky to make it through and recover to have a shot to get to the front.
“As you guys could see, once I could get there, I could drive through them,” Rahal continued.”It was just a matter of trying to pick your spot, and very fortunately at the end, I knew I was going to have to try to take Hinch to the top side because there was only one way actually clear him, which was to the bottom, and I was just very lucky it worked, and I have to thank Hinch a lot because, first of all, we’re flying home together tonight, so at least it’s not going to be awkward, and second of all, he gave me some good room at the bottom and didn’t end up in tears. Have to thank him for good, clean driving.”
The Firestone 600 started back on June 12 before being red flagged due to rain. However, on August 27 when the race was resumed, the weather was perfect which led to a good show of racing. The Columbus, Ohio native feels because the weather was clear, it allowed for them to race in safer conditions.
“Obviously there was some action there at the end, cautions, so to speak, but we put on a great show for Eddie, but we put on a great show for the fans, and I think anybody that watched that race, they can come back next year and understand that when they come to an IndyCar race they’re going to get the best racing possible,” Rahal added. “You know, it was a great event, a lot going on, geez, four wide and pretty nuts. But it’s also a lot different than what it used to be. It is not just flat-out easy pack racing anymore. I mean, you were lifting a heck of a lot in traffic, but the way these cars suck up nowadays, the draft is huge so it just makes the racing awesome.
“A lot of fun tonight. A lot of fun. Obviously the sparks were crazy. One time going through 4, it looked like somebody just put a camera right between my eyes and set it off because the flash was so bright right in my face. But it was pretty cool, and a lot of fun for everybody.”
The American driver says as the race was resumed, he couldn’t help but think of Justin Wilson who lost his life last year tragically at Pocono Raceway and when they had a great battle at TMS a few years ago. Rahal came up short in that race and all he could picture was Wilson shooting off the two six shooters.
“Big special weekend for myself, obviously my wife is here, which is cool,” Rahal stated. “She doesn’t get to come that often, so it was a lot of fun. She’s seen Fontana and this one, the two most nerve-racking races you could ever see, I think. I’ll be honest, what motivated me the most was this team deserves it. We have had our backs up against the wall this year. We’ve been just inside the top 10, but nothing has come easy for us, nothing.
“You look at our performance last weekend, we had zero straight line speed, couldn’t figure it out all week, couldn’t figure it out at the test. Just frustrated. Guys kept heads down, kept working hard, and this is going to lift their spirits a lot, and hopefully we can go into Watkins and have a good run. I didn’t want to go through this year without a win, and on that last yellow, I was telling myself this could be my chance, you’d better get it done, and we’re just lucky it all worked out.”
Going into the last lap of the race it was Rahal and Hinch – two Honda drivers going head to head for the win. Notably, Rahal’s win is only Honda’s second win this season.
“Yeah, it’s been tough, but I’ve got to be honest with you, I just feel like maybe people don’t see it this way, but I feel like we’ve been Honda’s best team as a single-car team the last couple years, so it’s just very rewarding for us because obviously the proof is in the pudding and this year hasn’t necessarily shown that,” Rahal said. ” It has on road courses as an entire package, so it means a lot to us as a team. Trust me, we take a lot of pride in representing Honda. For us as a family, the Rahal family, it’s far more than just an engine manufacturer; we’re obviously Honda dealers, and it means the world to us to have success on Sunday and sell on Monday, so to speak, and it’s a good week because we’re actually headed off to the grand opening of our Honda State College store so at least we can go talk about great things. But it’s special for us to get a win for Honda for sure, and be able to call corporate on Monday and have a good talk.”
Rahal says he had a good test at Watkins Glen International when he tested there a few weeks ago and he feels like him and his team can carry the momentum from Texas into next weekend race and pull out a semi decent result.