If there ever were a poster boy for the old expression “What a difference a day makes,” it would be IndyCar driver Graham Rahal.
Rahal crashed on lap 5 and finished last in the 23-car field in Saturday’s 2015 Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit No. 1 at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park.
A little over 24 hours later, thanks in part to rain, an abrupt rules change cutting the race from a distance event to a timed event, and enough wrecks and mayhem to fill a junkyard, Rahal earned his third podium finish of the 2015 season with a third-place showing in the Dual at Detroit No. 2.
“It helps a lot,” Rahal said of Sunday’s bounce back. “I mean, (Saturday) was brutal. That’s the nice thing about this doubleheader.
“We reversed our roles from last year. Last year had a good first day, bad second. At least this time, you know, I’m leaving here … on a good note.
“I’m happy with how it all went. I wish (Saturday) was a little better, but this definitely eases the pain. I think this is our third podium in the last four weekends, third in the last five races. Feels really good.”
The son of former Indianapolis 500 winner and CART champion Bobby Rahal, Graham is off to the best season start of his IndyCar career.
In 2015’s first eight races, the younger Rahal has two runner-up finishes, Sunday’s third-place showing, and four other finishes between 5th and 11th.
The 26-year-old’s average finish in 2015 is a career-high 8.1 thus far.
His Saturday finish has been the lone aberration thus far this season.
“Like I said, I’m just proud of my guys because they’re making my life a lot easier this year,” Rahal said. “They’re doing a great job in the pits, keep fighting hard. We’re up there with the big boys now. Got to make sure we’re good at everything.”
He’s also up to fourth in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings, trailing points leader Juan Pablo Montoya – who has been No. 1 since winning the season-opening race at St. Petersburg – by 69 points.
But Rahal is just six points behind third-ranked Scott Dixon, one point ahead of fifth-ranked Helio Castroneves and leads Sunday’s winner, Sebastien Bourdais, by 17 points.
“We’re just going to keep fighting,” said Rahal, whose best single season in IndyCar racing has been seventh in 2009. “We can hang with these guys. We just got to keep working hard and we’ll be there.”
But Rahal could have finished second or maybe even won the race had it not been for a costly blocking penalty that set him back from third to fourth – behind eventual winner Sebastien Bourdais, Juan Pablo Montoya and eventual runner-up Takuma Sato – while under caution on Lap 59.
“On the penalty side of things, obviously it’s extremely frustrating,” Rahal said. “I look at the incident (Saturday), all the avoidable contact that happened there. I got penalized for the same thing in St. Pete, and here nobody gets anything.
“It’s just very frustrating. I think we need to keep reviewing that, obviously work on it. But there’s just nothing you can do. When you’re in the car, you have to fight as hard as you can. I knew it would be hard here to get back by (Sato). But I’m pleased to be here on the podium.”
And even though he’s had an excellent first half of the season, there are still eight more races remaining, including Saturday night’s Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. There’s no way Rahal is taking anything for granted or letting up now.
“We’re only halfway done, man,” said Rahal, who only has one IndyCar win to date (St. Petersburg, 2008), but is hoping that changes in the remaining eight races, starting Saturday night. “Got a lot of work to do.”