Rahal Wins at Texas by 0.0080 Seconds Over Hinchcliffe

Photo Credit: IndyCar

Let’s put ourselves back in 2012 for a moment. There are 3 laps to go at the 2012 Firestone 550. Graham Rahal, who is driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, is out front with a comfortable lead over Justin Wilson. He is poised to win his first IndyCar race since the 2008 season, when he won his first IndyCar race in the first IndyCar race in which he ever contested. Then, with just over two laps remaining, he brushes the wall coming out of turn 4. Wilson blows by him with about 1.5 laps to go, and hangs on for the victory, which would be the final victory of his career before being killed last August after being hit in the head with debris from a crash at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.

Since then, Rahal has never been strong at Texas. Never. His highest finish at Texas in the 3 races since that heartbreaking loss was in 2014, when he finished in 12th place, 2 laps off of the lead.

Now driving for a team partially owned by his father Bobby Rahal, Graham Rahal, who drives a Honda-powered car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, has won the suspended Verizon IndyCar Series race, the Firestone 600, at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth Texas after 177 laps of excitement tonight and 248 total this season around the 4-turn 1.455-mile D-shaped oval. Rahal had actually made comments on his radio during warm-ups earlier today to his team saying that his car was “a *expletive* rocket” and talked about he was going to crush the other guys in the field tonight. These comments were aired before the race even restarted, and they go to show that confidence and teamwork can go a long with in motorsports and in any sports.

The race was originally scheduled to be run on Saturday, June 11th, but there were heavy rains that poured down over the track, making it impossible for the track to dry at any point in time that night. The race was the postponed until Sunday, June 12th, but rains forced that race to be suspended after just 71 of 248 scheduled laps of action, so the remaining 177 laps of the race were run tonight. The race resumed on lap 74 after 2 pace laps.

Today’s win at Texas is Rahal’s first of the season and 4th of his career. This race is the first race won by Rahal since he won at Mid-Ohio last August. A total of 15 races were raced by Rahal since that race without a victory. This race is just the 2nd race which has been won by a driver of a Honda-powered car this season out of the 14 races that have been contested. The other win by a driver of a Honda-powered car was almost 3 months ago when rookie Alexander Rossi won the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, Simon Pagenaud, and Helio Castroneves rounded out the top 5 finishing positions. Those drivers were the only drivers that finished on the lead lap. You can see full results of the race at IndyCar.com

The race featured a total of 14 lead changes among 8 different drivers. Hinchcliffe led 188 of the race’s 248 laps, but could not lead the last one. Rahal finished just 0.0080 seconds ahead of Hinchcliffe at the finish line in the 5th closest finish in IndyCar history. The final lap of the race was the only lap of the race that Rahal led, making him the 1st driver since James Hinchcliffe at Brazil in 2013, who took the lead in the final turn, to win a race after leading just 1 lap: the final one. This was just the 2nd time that this has happened since the late Dan Wheldon won the 2011 Indianapolis 500 after leading only the final lap when leader JR Hildebrand crashed in the final turn on the final lap of the race.

The race also featured a total of 4 caution flag periods (5 including the red flag period which stopped the race back in June due to rain and restarted the race today), including the one back in June that happened when Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly were involved in a terrible crash on lap 42 of the race. Conor Daly’s car got loose and spun, causing it to hit Newgarden’s car, which was then flipped onto its side before being smashed into the SAFER barrier by Daly’s out-of-control machine, cockpit-first.

The second caution flag of the race came out lap 213 when Scott Dixon made contact with Ed Carpenter, lost control of his car, and hit the wall hard before coming down onto the track and being slightly hit by Gabby Chaves. The contact Dixon made with Carpenter may or may not have caused Carpenter to get a flat tire. Dixon, who was in 6th place at the time, was battling with Ed Carpenter, who was in 2nd place at the time, to try to get back up to pass race leader James Hinchcliffe and get back onto the lead lap.

The third caution flag of the race came out lap 224 when Ed Carpenter, who was running in 2nd place, got loose and spun coming out of turn 4 and hit the wall, showing that he may very well have had a flat tire after being involved in the crash that took out Dixon. Helio Castroneves was also hit and damaged both his front and rear wing assemblies after spinning and making slight contact with the wall, but he was able to continue on in the race on the lead lap after a few visits on pit road under caution for some repairs to his car. Max Chilton also went spinning through the grass trying to avoid the accident, which he did successfully and helped his car to sustain no damage.

The final caution flag came of the race out on lap 232 when Mikhail Aleshin, who was running in 4th place and had just gotten back on the lead lap after passing the race leader and his teammate James Hinchcliffe, got loose and spun coming out of turn 4 and hit the wall before being pummeled by the oncoming car of Jack Hawksworth. Both cars were heavily damaged and went into through the grassy area, as did Max Chilton, who again was trying to avoid yet another accident. Chilton succeeded once again in helping his car to sustain no damage.

With so many cautions happening towards the end of the race, more cars kept getting back onto the lead lap, and each restart produced lots and lots of pack racing, which was a big reason for some of the crashes that occurred. This made the action more intense and exciting, as cars were going 3 and even 4-wide around the track and different points in time.

The final restart, which happened with 8 laps to go, set the stage for one of the greatest finishes in IndyCar history. With just 4 cars on the lead lap, Tony Kanaan decided to pit for fresh tires. He was cycled back to 4th place, and all of the lapped cars in between he and the leaders were, by rule, cycled to the back of the pack. Simon Pagenaud, however, was now back on the lead lap, so he was in 5th place behind Kanaan. Helio Castroneves, who ran in 3rd place, was working with a damaged race car having been involved in the crash that took Ed Carpenter out.

There was a lot of close racing going on, especially towards the front, and many exchanges of the lead were taking place as well. At times, the cars were 3 and 4-wide and bouncing off of one another, a near certain recipe for disaster at nearly 220 miles per hour on a 24-degree banked superspeedway like Texas Motor Speedway.

The race was reminiscent of the big pack race last June at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, which ended up also being won by Graham Rahal, who held off Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti late in the race. This race tonight at Texas, however, ended under green flag conditions, while the one in Fontana ended under caution.

Rahal had been the ultimate loser of a 4-wide battle which included himself, Castroneves, Kanaan, and Pagenaud with just 8 laps to go, as he fell back behind the three of them after needing to lift mid-turn to avoid an accident due to the fact that he was in the middle of the track with cars all around him. However, with just over 1 lap to go, he was back in the mix battling with Tony Kanaan for 2nd place, with both cars right on the bumper of the leader Hinchcliffe. Simon Pagenaud was content to run back in 4th place, as he was simply collecting championship points to extend his championship lead over teammate Will Power, and he did not want to risk anything by making a move that was too aggressive and ended up putting himself into the wall.

Rahal went high on Tony Kanaan to make the pass for 2nd place with one lap to go in turn 1, and then he tried to go high on Hinchcliffe to make the pass for the lead in turn 2. He could not execute the move, and then decided to go low on Hinchcliffe on the back straightaway to perform an over-under move, which worked and put Rahal out front with just two turns to go. Hinchcliffe, however, had lots of momentum on the high side of the race track headed towards the checkered flag, and was able to get right up beside Rahal at the checkered flag, creating a photo finish of two cars separated by just eight thousandths of a second. You can see the epic photo finish here:

08-27-Texas-Finish-HiSpeed-Camera.jpgPhoto Credit: IndyCar

Add to the craziness of the finish of the race the fact that Rahal had actually begun to pump his fist in the air before crossing the finish line, a risky move for multiple reasons, but two in particular. One reason is the fact that Hinchcliffe was literally right beside Rahal the whole time, so the race was far from over even with only 100 yards to go, and the other reason is that pumping your fist outside of the cockpit puts a couple of extra pounds of downforce on the car, something you don’t want when the finish line is right in front of you and you are still in a tight battle for the race victory. Had Rahal ended up losing the race, it is pretty safe to say that a huge reason for it would have been because of the fist pump.

This race and the finish itself carried so many storylines with it, as I have explained above. But what is a glorious and joyful day for Graham Rahal is a painful one for James Hinchcliffe, who, at some points during the race, had led the field by over 1 lap. Hinchcliffe has not won since the 2015 race at NOLA Motorsports Park, which was before his near-fatal crash at practice for the 2015 Indianapolis 500, which you can read about HERE.

Although his finish of 2nd place is his highest of the season, highest since his latest victory, and highest since his near-fatal wreck, a gut-wrenching feeling comes with it for Hinchcliffe. He had the dominant car all race long and led over 75% of the race’s laps. This has been compared to Josef Newgarden’s dominant win at Iowa earlier this season in which he led 282 of the 300 laps, and Hinchcliffe’s dominant win at Iowa in 2013 in which he led 228 of the 250 laps. But unfortunately for Hinchcliffe, he could not lead the lap that counted most in this one: lap 248.

The next Verizon IndyCar Series race will be at Watkins Glen International at Watkins Glen, New York on Sunday, September 4th, 2016 around the 11-turn 3.4-mile natural terrain road course. This race will be the 15th of 16 on this year’s schedule. The race will start at approximately 2:37 PM ET and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network starting at 2 PM ET.

Simon Pagenaud carries a 28-point advantage in the championship standings over teammate Will Power heading to Watkins Glen, as he will try to hang on for the final two races of the season and win his first ever IndyCar championship, while Will Power will try to win his 2nd IndyCar championship adding to his 2014 title.

-Asher Fair