Graham Rahal to forego planned NASCAR Nationwide debut

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The NASCAR debut of Izod IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal has been shelved for the time being, according to a report Friday by AutoWeek.com.

Rahal, the son of former three-time CART champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, has decided to delay what would have been his NASCAR debut in the Nationwide Series’ August 17 event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. No reason has been given for why the younger Rahal pulled out of the race, other than telling the web site that it “won’t happen” this season.

The elder Rahal told the web site that his son, who will race Sunday in the IndyCar race at Iowa Speedway, still hopes to make his NASCAR debut eventually.

“That’s his desire,” Bobby Rahal said. “I think it would be great for him to try. I drove IROC (the now-defunct International Race of Champions series] and I drove a NASCAR race (1984 at Riverside, made an early exit due to mechanical failure and finished 40th), and it’s all interesting. Anything you can drive in, you get better. Now, I think he’s more concerned with making it happen next year. It would be really great for him to try and I think he would do very well at it.”

Had Graham Rahal, 24, gone ahead with the Nationwide Series race, it would have been an emotional appearance. He grew up in suburban Columbus, Ohio, less than an hour from the 2.3-mile Mid-Ohio, a track that was one of his father’s favorites during his racing career.

The younger Rahal has struggled in his first season with Rahal Letterman Lanigan, currently ranked 17th. That could be part of the reason why he pulled out of the NNS race, to potentially try and salvage what has been a rough season thus far. In nine races, Rahal has one runner-up finish (Long Beach) and two other top-10 finishes. On the flip side, he has five finishes of 16th or worse.

“I think he is interested in doing some of the road courses, but in NASCAR, everybody wants money,” Bobby Rahal said, “especially if you’re going to be with a team you can succeed with. You want to get Penske or Gibbs or Hendrick or any of those guys.”

Formula One: Haas fighting for ‘best of the rest’ in Year 3

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The third season for Haas F1 has been its best, even if it’s been a bit bizarre.

Formula One’s only U.S.-based team has scored the most points in its young history and overcome some serious bumbles early to compete with – and beat – some of the legacy team names in F1.

Haas heads into this week’s U.S. Grand Prix in a tough season-ending fight with Renault for the “best of the rest” title among the teams outside of the Big Three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

“It’s the best battle of the field. It’s very tight. It’s going to go to the last lap of the race in Abu Dhabi, while I think the world championship is probably going to go this weekend,” said Haas’ French driver Romain Grosjean, who signed with the team before their first season.

“To rise as quickly as we’ve done hasn’t been seen in Formula One, I don’t think,” said his Danish teammate Kevin Magnussen.

Haas launched with a surprise in 2016 and has been rising ever since.

Haas scored points in its first race in 2016, and in 2017 had both cars finish in the top 10 for the first time at Monte Carlo, the biggest race on the annual calendar. A strong run over the last 10 races of this season has Haas just eight points behind Renault in the race for fourth place with four races left.

The 2018 season looks to finish better than it started.

After Haas scored the team’s best-ever qualifying at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, neither car finished the race. Magnussen and Grosjean both left pit stops on consecutive laps with unsecured wheels and had to stop. The team was fined for sending the cars out in unsafe conditions.

“That was extremely, extremely disappointing” Magnussen said “We are still showing signs of immaturity at certain moments.”

Other problems followed. A month later in Azerbaijan, Grosjean fought his way from the back row into sixth before he drove straight into the wall while following a safety car. Grosjean felt horrible, but blamed one of the season’s most bizarre incidents on an errant flip of a steering wheel switch that he said upset the car’s brake balance and sent him spinning into the barrier.

More valuable points were lost in Italy when the floor of Grosjean’s car was deemed illegal and he was disqualified from sixth place. Haas appealed and is awaiting a decision on points that would close the gap with Renault with a stroke of a pen. Despite the gaffes, Grosjean has finished in the top 10 four times in the last seven races.

“I got eight points stolen in Monza,” Grosjean said. “The results are coming with the kind of performance Haas signed me for in the first place.”

After the problems, Grosjean admitted it was a relief to extend his contract with Haas for 2019. He and Magnussen will be teammates again.

“When I joined, I didn’t know what Haas was going to be. I think they gave me some credit for that when I had a tough time earlier this year and turned things around, Grosjean said.

Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner said he and team owner Gene Haas saw value in staying with drivers who knew the Haas cars.

“Just to change a driver for the same level of skill, you go backward,” Steiner said. “There’s not a lot of better drivers out there, so why should we change them? Stay the same and mature quicker.”

The question now is how high can Haas go?

The Haas business model – which has drawn complaints from its middle-of-the-pack rivals – has it buying parts and engines, most notably from Ferrari. It keeps costs down but creates a performance ceiling that Haas is unlikely to break through.

“We are not developing parts for our car,” Grosjean said. “So far it hasn’t been a problem. If one day we start to beat Ferrari, it’s not going to work.”

Steiner said a top three finish isn’t realistic, not against teams with much bigger budgets, development and staff.

“The first year we didn’t finish last, the second year we didn’t finish last and now we are fighting for fourth. We must be doing something right,” Steiner said. “How do we get to that next step? Where do we go from here? Right now, there is no answer.”

That can be the frustrating part of an otherwise very good season.

A taste of success begs for more. For the 26-year-old Magnussen, he can be good with Haas, maybe even the “best of the rest.” But that’s a career definition no driver wants.

“It’s been six years since I won a race in motorsport,” Magnussen said. “I miss winning. Badly.”