Rahal’s dream season finally hits trouble in Sonoma finale (VIDEO)

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SONOMA, Calif. – Much like Simon Pagenaud in last year’s Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Graham Rahal entered the last race of the year as an underdog, but with a shot at the championship.

And like Pagenaud, he also picked the worst time to have his worst race of the year.

Rahal’s dream season – which we’ve chronicled throughout the year here on MotorSportsTalk – finally hit the wall metaphorically rather than literally in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, where Rahal fought an ill-handling car all day and was lucky to even be in top-10 contention in the waning stages of the 85-lap race.

Contact occurred on Lap 78 when Sebastien Bourdais hit his rear wing and knocked him into a spin at Turn 7 when battling over sixth place.

Bourdais was assessed a drive-through penalty for the contact and Rahal, while justifiably irate about this moment, was overall more frustrated his car wasn’t up to scratch. He ended 18th in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake RLL Honda.

“Our car was pretty terrible today,” Rahal said, speaking to NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis post-race. “The guys did great in the pits to keep us in it. We didn’t deserve to be in that position. I can’t thank this team and Steak ‘N Shake enough. Obviously the Bourdais thing hurt us from third to fourth. But what can you say. We definitely wanted to go out better than this.”

Rahal expanded on the tough day in the post-race press conference.

“Car was just miserable today, just miserable. I don’t know why. We’ve been pretty strong on road and street courses all year, but we found a bad day to be bad. But that doesn’t overshadow the year we had,” he said.

He also said Bourdais, who is a four-time Champ Car champion, has been driving like this in more recent years, where aggression has got the better of him.

“Bourdais unfortunately in recent times has made a lot of moves like that,” Rahal said. “I don’t know what kind of excuse he could possibly come up with, with hitting me in the rear, but I hit the brakes at the 200 mark. It was going to be impossible for him to stop had he gone inside of me, and even if he had gone outside, he wasn’t going anywhere, yet he clearly just wasn’t even looking.

“He was obviously just focused right on my gearbox and not where we were on the circuit, and he just drilled me, and around I went. He comes up to me and said he doesn’t mean to, but unfortunately that cost us third in the championship.

“What do you say? Again, what do you say? I don’t know, man. It’s frustrating. He’s a guy you should ‑ you should have high expectations for, and when you see stuff like that, it’s pretty disappointing.”

Rahal still held his head high despite the rough ending, as he fell to fourth in the final standings despite entering in second, 34 back of Juan Pablo Montoya.

“We have nothing to be ashamed of this year,” he told Beekhuis. “Steak ‘N Shake rescued this team and gave us the chance to race this year.”

WATCH LIVE: IndyCar practice and qualifying at Laguna Seca

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For the first time in 15 years, Indy cars will be racing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and the stakes have never been higher.

Tomorrow’s Grand Prix of Monterey is the final race of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, and with four drivers mathematically eligible for the series championship, there will be plenty of story lines to follow.

Current series points leader Josef Newgarden enters this weekend with a 41-point lead over second-place Alexander Rossi.

A California native, Rossi attended his first IndyCar race with his father as child at Laguna Seca when he was three years old.

He now hopes to win his first IndyCar championship at the track where he fell in love with the sport, but after suffering a broken bolt in practice 1 yesterday, he will need to find speed in P3 and qualifying today in order to put himself in the best position to fight for the title.

Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon are also in contention to win the championship this weekend, and another title would only add to their already illustrious IndyCar careers.

Leigh Diffey, Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell will call today’s on-track action from the booth, while Marty Snider, Jon Beekhuis, Kevin Lee and Robin Miller will report from the pits.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All times are Eastern)

Saturday 9/21, 1 p.m. ET, IndyCar Practice 3, NBC Sports Gold 

Saturday 9/21, 4:30 p.m. ET, IndyCar Qualifying, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

Saturday 9/21, 6 p.m. ET, Indy Lights Race 1, NBC Sports Gold 

 

For sessions on NBC Sports Gold, be sure to have your username and password handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.