Graham Rahal’s Fontana win was long overdue, and a long time coming


Lost in all the post-race hoopla of what the MAVTV 500 race was like, and the dissenting camps on whether it was too dangerous or overly exciting, was the fact Graham Rahal actually won the damn thing.

Yes, the guy folks have been asking since that glorious first win in the rain in St. Petersburg, 2008, when was he going to win his second race, finally won his second race in the No. 15 Mi-Jack/Steak ‘n Shake Honda.

And it’s been a shame it’s been as overlooked as it has in the grand scheme of things.

It’s been obvious to anyone paying attention in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year since as early as NOLA Motorsports Park, the second race of the year, that Rahal and the revamped, reorganized Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team have been operating at another level this season.

You can’t build chemistry, and the fact Rahal is enjoying a career season with individuals like Mike Talbott, Martin Pare and Eddie Jones speaks to how well they’re all gelling as a collective unit.

This eventual win has been building for months.

Rahal was borderline top-five in St. Petersburg before a penalty issued for avoidable contact, which was questionable at best as other drivers made contact with other cars but avoided penalty. He was running top-five at NOLA before the pit stop strategy gamble made by others shuffled him back.

Long Beach was OK, but Barber was his breakout. If he had another two or three laps, Rahal might have caught eventual winner Josef Newgarden, or to another point, Newgarden might have ran out of fuel.

His second straight runner-up in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis came courtesy of a dynamite first lap to avoid the first corner chaos. The fifth place in the Indianapolis 500 a few weeks later came with the Hondas notably down on overall performance compared to the Chevrolets.

Only at Detroit race one, where he was wrecked out at Turn 1, was the early season momentum halted. But another podium followed in Detroit race two.

Consecutive tough results in Texas and Toronto, 15th and ninth, threatened to derail the progress but Rahal rebounded in a big way this Saturday in Fontana.

Was there controversy over the fuel buckeye issue and subsequent caution? Sure there was. But, as noted, INDYCAR has changed the rule this year to where pit road infractions are subject to post-race penalties. So Rahal’s not being penalized in-race is consistent with the other 11 instances this season.

But at the end of the day, Rahal won. It didn’t matter how. He was due. The team was due.

source: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

“It feels good. I mean, you know, I’m most happy for my dad and Dave and Mike and all our sponsors that kind of came back and gave us some life this year,” Rahal said during the post-race press conference.

“This is a big, big deal for us. You know, there’s a lot of people that made a lot of comments about myself and about our team and about our owners and everything else that weren’t fair to be quite frank, so to kind of rebound the way we have all season, I mean, this feels good to win for sure, and I’m definitely looking forward to tonight, I can tell you that.

“It’s been a good year, and we’ve shown that it wasn’t like a one‑hit wonder that we were good at ‑‑ I don’t even know, Barber or something. I feel like we’re starting to find our form everywhere a little bit, and I think that’s helping us in the big picture, and I told my guys, you know, I mean, my sights are still set on finishing in the top-five in points. I don’t know that we can win it, I really don’t, but top-five in points I think is achievable.”

Rahal wasn’t a pre-race favorite Saturday on paper, starting 19th, but as he told his team pre-race, with 500 miles to go and passing opportunities plentiful, they still had a great shot.

“This morning we got together, and I said, guys, yeah, we start 19th, but this is our best opportunity right now,” he said.

“It starts here. These next three races are where we’ve been weak the last three years, and the next couple races are where we need to improve, and I think everybody did a good job, and seriously, enough can’t be said for this team.”

Rahal described what it means to have had this success as a one-car team, up against the mights – and staffs – of three- or four-car powerhouse operations.

“I mean, you’ve got to understand, we’re understaffed by a couple people, where we’ve never done a wind tunnel day. We’ve done one shaker rig deal. We don’t have the resources others do, and these guys put their heads down, and they work damned hard, and I’m really proud of them.”

Rahal, now 26 and engaged to NHRA star Funny Car driver Courtney Force, is also a more mature driver, more appreciative of his moment this time around.

“I think I’ve always been a firm believer in everything in life happens for a reason, and I think it’s really caused me to grow up, and I feel fortunate that today is the day that I got it,” he said. “Hopefully we can move on from here and not make it another seven years.”

The Rahal/Force engagement has been something of an off-track, consistent story for IndyCar throughout the year.

But what “G” and RLL have done on-track this year on the whole is so, so, incredibly worthy of widespread, national media praise and attention.

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.