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.”