Graham Rahal looks to finish oval-race trilogy by continuing hot streak

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Graham Rahal isn’t wavering from the belief that he had prior to the Verizon IndyCar Series race at Fontana a few weeks ago.

He believed the three-race stretch at the oval tracks – Fontana, the Milwaukee Mile and this weekend’s at Iowa Speedway – could make or break the season of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s single-car team.

He’s not wavering because nothing’s been broken.

Rahal won his first IndyCar race since 2008 at Fontana and followed it up at Milwaukee with his fifth podium of the year, a career best. Throw in two straight Will Power DNF’s and Rahal now sits tied for third in the driver standings with Helio Castroneves, 69 points behind leader Juan Pablo Montoya.

“I absolutely still think that the biggest thing for us as a team is to try to carry momentum through these races because it’s not only important to us for our season,” Rahal said in a press release. “These are areas where we struggled as a team the past couple of years.”

In his first three starts at Fontana, Rahal’s results were sixth (2012), a DNF and 19th. At Milwaukee, he had not finished better than ninth since earning two top-five finishes in 2009 and 2011. On Sunday, he led his first laps ever at the 1-mile track.

At Iowa, which hosts Saturday’s Iowa Corn 300 at 8 p.m. ET NBCSN, Rahal has yet to finish better than fifth (2013) in seven starts.

“Of all the oval races, I think Iowa has been our strength the last couple of years so I’m pretty excited to get there and see what we can do,” Rahal said of the 0.894-mile track.

“We found some things for our short track setup in Milwaukee that is really going to help us going forward. There is no doubt in my mind that this team will show improvement at Iowa.”

Through 12 of 16 races, Rahal’s No. 15 has been far and away the class of the Honda-powered teams. In addition to his Fontana win, Rahal has been the top-finishing Honda driver in six races, including the last three.

This in a year where Honda has been considered at a competitive disadvantage to Chevrolet, which has won nine of 12 races. In 2014, the two manufacturers each had six wins after race 12. In 2013, Honda had five.

“It’s going to be hard to catch (Juan Pablo) Montoya to win the championship, but I really don’t see why we can’t be right there, right behind them. That’s our goal,” Rahal said. “Everyone from Honda continues to work hard. They have kept their heads down and kept working hard and we are putting ourselves in a place where we can succeed and we will.”

So far Rahal’s confidence hasn’t been misplaced this year, his best since breaking into IndyCar in 2007 at 18.

“I’m proud of the effort they (Honda) have put in,” Rahal continued. “It was apparent from the start that we were a little bit behind and the guys have just kept working hard and we have found ourselves right in the thick of this thing in the championship. We’re going to keep pushing hard to get Honda even further up if we can.

“I’m not worried about the title or standings as much as I am thinking about how we can do the best we can and put ourselves in a great position to compete.”