Mix of nostalgia and focusing forward for Rahal in Pocono

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Bobby Rahal and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team had a better weekend in Iowa than the month previous. Now, the 1988 Pocono winner returns to the 2.5-mile oval for this weekend’s IZOD IndyCar Series race as a team owner, and hopes that his drivers Graham Rahal and James Jakes can enjoy a second half surge.

“When I won in 1988 that was the one and only victory with a Judd engine in the history of Judd,” the senior Rahal recalled in the team’s advance release. “To be honest, we weren’t the fastest although we qualified well (third). The Chevy’s were much more powerful than the Judd was at the time but it was a battle of attrition and in the end Al (Unser) Sr. and I had a fight.

“He was Chevy-powered and with Penske and the Chevy was very strong at the time but we just outlasted everybody which was somewhat unusual with that engine because we suffered with reliability earlier in the year. In the end we were the last ones standing so to speak.

“What made that race even more special was that earlier in the week we had broken ground on my first automobile dealership in Mechanicsburg, PA. that started the Automotive Group we’ve got going today, and won the race too. It was a special week.”

Jakes ended Thursday’s test after 104 laps in 10th; Graham Rahal 22nd after experimenting with different downforce levels in his 141 laps. Rahal ended the session with a slight brush against the Turn 1, with minimal exterior damage. The team also tested at Pocono immediately after Iowa last week.

“The aero configuration is a little bit different from the test and the weather was different too, it was a little warmer and windy today,” said Jakes. “It’s hard to say how different the car is but I think we had a productive day. We certainly tested a lot which is what we needed to do. Generally on the super speedways we’ve been pretty good so we’ve just got to keep on working hard and make improvements overall. Hopefully we can make some steps and Honda can as well to be in a position to fight right at the top come Sunday.”

“I didn’t feel a ton more downforce (in the car) but I know that there is since last week’s test,” said Rahal. “We struggled with our car a little bit today so to say that I felt it wouldn’t be true. Frankly I felt the other tire was a little bit better for my car but we couldn’t run it with the blistering so we will have to make the most of what we’ve got here. We’ll keep working hard on it.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.