It all comes together for Rahal in Long Beach

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Graham Rahal is hopeful that a second-place performance in today’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will be enough to revitalize his campaign, which started with subpar results of 13th at St. Petersburg and 21st at Barber Motorsports Park.

“We had more fun this weekend than we’ve had the last couple, that’s for sure,” said Rahal, who started 11th. “You know, I think today was just great because it finally came together. I mean, we all felt that we had the speed. You look back at St. Pete, I felt like that could have been a similar result to today — we just couldn’t see it through unfortunately. Without a doubt, it feels phenomenal to be up here.”

Rahal’s best opportunity to pass Takuma Sato for a potential win came on the final restart at Lap 56, but when he was unable to do it, the Japanese driver pulled away to a comfortable first win in the IZOD IndyCar Series. It left the Ohio native wondering what could have been — “God, I was so close to winning yet again,” he said — but considering the high level of competition within the series (and the narrow margin for error that it brings), Rahal was happy to take the runner-up spot.

“It’s so competitive,” Rahal said. “You look at me — last week, I qualified 21st, today I’m finishing second. It’s so competitive. If you barely miss it, that can be 20 spots. So on the points side of it, today is extremely important. The last two races, looking at points, man, that is brutal. But here we are. I don’t know where we are, but I’m sure this had to help us in a huge, huge way.”

Rahal was right. He climbed to seventh in the standings with 66 points, seven points behind sixth-place driver Ryan Hunter-Reay.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.