After breaking through with two wins, six podiums and a fourth-place finish in the season standings – both career bests – in 2015, Graham Rahal was poised for an even better season in 2016.
At least that was the plan and hope.
But as the Verizon IndyCar Series comes to a conclusion in Sunday’s season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the plan will likely come up short.
Rahal enters this weekend’s action at Sonoma Raceway seventh in the standings. Even with double points being awarded in the race, Rahal will still fall short of his goal of winning the championship.
Yet there’s an interesting twist: If he has a strong run in Sunday’s race, and several drivers currently ahead of him in the standings falter, Rahal could still finish the year as high as third in the points.
Admittedly, that’s if everything comes together well. But at the same time, Rahal must do significantly better at Sonoma than he did in the previous race, also on a road course, at Watkins Glen, where he finished a disappointing and season-worst 21st after contact.
That’s quite the contrast from the race before Watkins Glen, when Rahal won the weather-suspended race at Texas, his first victory of the season.
Now with the championship battle lost, Rahal’s plan turns to winning the season finale and trying to turn what right now looks like a fair season finish to a strong finish in the standings if everything goes right.
“I am excited to get to Sonoma Raceway and just try to get another win this year,” Rahal said. “We need it, we want it and I think we can get it. We have nothing to lose, really.
“I think we should be very strong, but based on testing I think a lot of teams will be strong. Then again, when you show up for the race weekend, the cream rises to the top and I think we are in that group.
“My guys have been very focused amidst this busy, difficult season and I think we can get rewarded with a great result this weekend. I do not want to pressure ourselves, but I think we certainly deserve to be a top-five car at the end of the season.”