Graham Rahal can’t close deal in runner-up finish at Barber


For most of Sunday’s Grand Prix of Alabama, when he was driving in the clear, Graham Rahal had a simple thought:

“S***. This might be the day.”

It was thought that likely reached its apex with 15 laps left at Barber Motorsports Park and the second-generation driver sporting better tires and fuel mileage than the four cars in front of him.

One of these days.

It’s a preamble to many sentences regarding the career of Graham Rahal.

One of these days, he will have the best car.

One of these days, Rahal will be in the right place at the right time.

One of these days Rahal will lead the final lap of a Verizon IndyCar Series event and win his second-career race, the first since April 2008 at St. Petersburg.

Sunday, despite arguably one of the drives of his career, was not one of those days. Again.

“I didn’t think they would make it on fuel,” Rahal said. “It worked to a certain extent.”

To an extent is finishing 2.2061 seconds behind Newgarden in second, for his 10th career podium finish.

Rahal, in the single car No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda run by his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team, clearly had one of the two best cars and was likely two to three laps from overtaking Newgarden.

But there wasn’t three more laps. There were just 90 and Rahal ran out of time.

“I knew I was going to have to push 110 percent, drive as hard as I could to make up the time,” said Rahal, who had to make up a double-digit deficit, passing Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon before setting his sights on Newgarden and a victory Rahal has been striving toward for more than 110 races.

“I didn’t realize it was like 15 or 20 seconds I had to make up,” Rahal said.

“My concern today was passing,” he added. “Coming off Long Beach, it was difficult to follow others. It could be more difficult. But today I made a lot of moves, (turns) 3 into 5 is where I got most people. It seemed to be pretty good.”

More than once, Rahal was able to pass cars on the outside through Turn 5 on his final march to the front. Before Rahal was held up the most by Dixon, he had been making laps two seconds faster than Newgarden, who was shaky on gas mileage. Rahal finally got around Dixon with two laps remaining, which wasn’t enough.

“I feel like all year we’ve been in a position that we could’ve (finished well),” Rahal told NBCSN afterward.”We lost opportunities to finish in this kind of position in the first three races, so to get this Barber feels so good.”

Rahal’s No. 15 team had finished 11th twice, at St. Petersburg and Long Beach, with their best performance being eighth at a rain-soaked NOLA Motorsports Park.

Sunday’s podium was Rahal’s first since finishing second at the first Detroit race last year. Now he sits at 10th in the driver points standings.

“We could’ve gone way forward or way back, depending on how it went,” Rahal said. “I’m happy to say we went forward. I can not thank this team enough. We’ve had a couple of tough, tough years. But we’ve fought really hard.”

But coming up short may not weigh on Rahal’s shoulder as much as it might have in recent years.

“I had to push so hard all race,” Rahal said. “I’ll sleep well tonight.”

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
Align Media

ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”