It’s “never-say-die” for Graham Rahal with three races left

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What is Graham Rahal thinking?

Let’s start with points. Rahal is a career-best second in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings, 42 behind Juan Pablo Montoya.

The 26-year-old is a month removed from his second series win. The first came in 2008.

Surrounded by Penske and Ganassi drivers, Rahal is the only Honda driver in the top five.

Don’t forget that Rahal is all by himself. Where others have data from two to three teammates, every week the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver goes once more into the breach, a one-man army.

All of it has Rahal thinking more like a founding member of “The Goonies.”

“We’ve got to have this never-say-die attitude,” Rahal said Tuesday in a media teleconference. “If I have a race-winning car, we have to win. We can’t finish second or third. If we have a 10th-place car, we have to find a way to finish fifth.”

Rahal and the team behind his No. 15 Honda have been doing just that. In a year where Honda has been lagging behind the Chevrolets of Penske and Ganassi in grasping the new aero kits, Rahal’s Honda is the only that’s been at the front at the front consistently through nearly all 13 races, earning a career-high five podiums.

The exceptions: being penalized at St. Petersburg, an unavoidable wreck in Detroit race one and then the Firestone 600 at Texas, the only race Rahal believes the team actually made a wrong decision, which resulted in a 15th-place finish.

“We took for granted the amount of downforce we thought we needed and we just didn’t put enough on,” Rahal said. “We didn’t have the data to know otherwise, versus the teams that got it right were multi-car teams.”

Those multi-car teams get data from everywhere.

“Every lap that gets turned throughout a practice, qualifying, a race, they’re getting four times the amount of data for every single lap that they do,” Rahal said. “Without a doubt, that’s a huge advantage.”

For awhile RLL Racing was getting the wrong information from the wrong people. The weekend of the team’s “one little-slip up” at Texas, Rahal shared one example of how the team had been led down the wrong path before this renaissance year.

“Last year we were convinced by an engineer that we had to go one way on dampers, so we spent a quarter of a million dollars buying all those dampers and found out what we had before was better,” the driver said.

“Unfortunately, that was kind of the directions we’ve been led in before, but we’re back to where the Rahal Letterman team has been for a long time.”

Since the dismal visit to Texas, Rahal has finished in the top 10 in all four races, including his Fontana win and bouncing back from multiple near-disasters at Iowa to finish fourth.

During that stretch, Rahal’s father, team co-owner Bobby Rahal, hasn’t been anywhere near the track.

“My dad’s been on vacation the last two weeks. I haven’t even heard from him. Hasn’t been at the last three races. Maybe that’s the way he wants it to be,” Rahal said. “He kind of just said to me, ‘I don’t know, maybe I should just not show up the rest of the time. If this is the way things are going to go, maybe you’re best on your own.'”

He won’t be on his own this weekend. With the IndyCar series rolling into Mid-Ohio, the family’s home track, the elder Rahal will be back to watch his son kick off what could be the final leg of a championship season.

“To me, that track, the connection I have with that venue, is really a big part of why I am doing what I am and what I love,” Rahal said.

“Being in this position, in a position to win a championship, is something I truly never dreamed of. Hard to believe we’re in the battle now.”

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.