Graham Rahal thrilled with IndyCar’s reworked schedule for 2020

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Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing feels good about the future of IndyCar, even during a dark time when all of pro sports has been shut down because of the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

Rahal, like the rest of America, is doing his best to get through it but is confident once the health threat subsides, it will be time to go back to work.

Meantime, the leadership of the IndyCar Series led by new owner Roger Penske, IndyCar CEO Mark Miles, IndyCar President Jay Frye and Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles were working to save the season.

By “thinking outside of the box” they were able to dramatically rearrange the schedule and move the 104th Indianapolis 500 from May 24 to August 23.

It is hoped, by then, the COVID-19 pandemic will have subsided, and large events can once again bring people together, instead of sending them for shelter.

“We are very fortunate to have the ownership and leadership we have today,” Rahal told “Who knows how different this would have been if it had happened last year? I’m not throwing anybody under the bus, but Roger Penske is an incredibly organized problem solver. A guy that finds solutions and leads companies to a successful future. He’s been thrown to the wolves this year, not only with IndyCar and IMS, but all of his businesses.

“We’re in the automotive retail business, and it is brutal right now. At our dealerships, we are not allowed to sell a car right now. Not allowed. Even if we had a client that wants to buy one, we can’t sell it. Imagine how that affects Roger (who has dealerships across the United States).

“Here he is focused on IndyCar racing trying to put together this great schedule. Greg Penske — those of us involved know Greg is a chip off the old block; he is Roger — he has been heavily involved. You can’t thank those guys enough.

“Also, Mark Miles and Jay Frye have done a tremendous job putting this all together at not a very favorable time for all of us. It definitely turned out pretty good.

“It will still be the same for the drivers. The adrenaline is going, and you are ready to go. It’s Indy. We are excited about that.”

Rahal will participate in Saturday’s American Red Cross Grand Prix, the first race in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. The virtual race featuring a field of 25 with many NTT IndyCar Series drivers along and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. It will be held at a virtual Watkins Glen International.

“I feel like it is an interesting concept,” Rahal said. “I’m going to put my sim together and see what comes of that. I’ve never done this. I have seen it. I’m aware of it. I drove a simulator 12 years ago and it’s pretty different from where it is and what it is today. I’m definitely excited. It’s a good way to kill time. I’m not a big gamer. I have businesses to run and everything else. For me, it’s cool to have this in the house and play with it and see what it is all about.

“It’s great. Even Jimmie Johnson is going to get in on it. Other guys want to come in and play. I already tweeted at Jimmie Johnson to run the IndyCar Grand Prix.

“We all know Jimmie Johnson is going to come here in the future. Right now, he wants to stay committed to his craft and what he is doing.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Although events such as this keep Rahal’s reflexes sharp, he has upped his physical workouts at home.

“I’ve been full-on working out,” Rahal said. “It’s giving me a good combination of cardio and my lifting and try to get my weight down further. Being at home, you can control what you are eating better than when you are traveling.

“The crappy side for me is the same for everybody else. When I go to the gym to work out, I turn on the Columbus Blue Jackets or something to watch. Now, they aren’t on. It’s no fun, but it is what it is.”

There are times where Rahal, like the rest of us, gets restless being forced to stay at home. But he realizes that this a time to think of others and reflect on why lies ahead.

Once the season begins, whether it’s May 30 in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix or possibly later, the pace of the schedule will be relentless, so enjoy the time off now because it will be non-stop action when racing returns.

“As Scott Dixon said, we have plenty of off time right now,” Rahal said. “All of our guys have plenty of off time. I don’t think our guys have been at the shop except for a couple days since St. Pete, and they won’t be for another week or two, until the governor lets everyone come back. They are getting a solid, month-plus off.

“All of us need to sit back and try our best to enjoy this little bit of time that we’ve got because once we go back, it will be full-in. But we are all going to be happy for that. We will all be excited that is the case.”

Rahal believes an Indianapolis 500 in August will be just as exciting and spectacular as it is in May.

“I feel better about it, too,” Rahal said. “I think there is good direction and good leadership with what we are doing. We have a couple of months, which sucks, but we are hoping it all settles down. I’m hopeful that it will.

“If you look at the coronavirus issue and the spread, 300,000 people in May was going to be a tall task. Delaying that for a few months certainly is a better place. I’m excited by it.

“I think the promoters did a great job making this happen with IndyCar as well.”

By thinking outside of the box, it also has provided IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the chance to have IndyCar and NASCAR compete on the same race course on July 4.

The GMR IndyCar Grand Prix has been moved from May 9 to July 4 at the IMS Road Course. That same day, NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers will compete in the Pennzoil 150 on the same road course.

The following day, it’s the Brickyard 400 when NASCAR Cup drivers compete on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

“I think it’s huge,” Rahal said. “I’ve been a big proponent of it. With my wife, I proposed IndyCar and NHRA should run a double-header. IndyCar and NASCAR would be a great combination. It’s mutually beneficial for both to do this and for the health of motorsports.

“I’ve had so many tweets today of people who were not coming to Brickyard who flat out have said, now I know where I’m going to be in July. You already see the excitement. It’s a great thing that could, and should, continue.

“This schedule is eye-opening to us what could work, too? How can we be a little bit different and innovative schedule-wise? Yes, we get stuck in a rut sometimes, but how can this work and how can it be beneficial?

“From a TV perspective, to combine those two over a weekend is huge. I think it’s a great opportunity.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Kyle Larson wins third consecutive High Limit Sprint race at Eagle Raceway, Rico Abreu second again

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It took four attempts for Kyle Larson to win his first High Limit Sprint Car Series race in the series he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet, but once he found victory lane, he has been undefeated with his win at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway. For the second week, Abreu led early only to fall prey to Larson.

The win was Larson’s third straight victory and the fifth consecutive top-five, giving him a perfect sweep of the season after finishing 10th in last year’s inaugural race at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana.

Larson started third behind Abreu and Brent Marks but was embroiled in a fierce battle with Anthony Macri for third during the first dozen laps. Larson slipped by Macri in traffic until a red flag waved for a flip by Lachlan McHugh.

Meanwhile at the front of the pack, Marks retook the lead from Abreu on Lap 18. Larson followed one lap later and then caution waved again. Tyler Courtney lost power and fell to 24th after starting eighth.

Marks scooted away on the restart but tragedy struck in Lap 26. Leading the race, Marks hit a pothole in Turn 1, bicycled and then flipped, handing the lead to Larson.

Abreu caught Larson again during the final laps and in a reprise of their battle at Tri-City Speedway, the two threw sliders at one another for several laps until Larson built some separation and ran away to the checkers.

“I didn’t feel like my pace in [Turns] 1 & 2 slowed down a ton,” Larson said from victory lane. “I missed it once there and then I saw his nose in 3 & 4. I didn’t know if he nailed the bottom that well behind me and I think he might have slid me in the next corner, so he was definitely on the top.

“I was nervous to move up there because my car was really pogoing up in the entry of 1. I got up just in time, made a few mistakes and he threw a couple more sliders at me but he was just a little too far back and I was able to squirt around him. Then I really had to commit to hitting my marks – back my effort down a bit to avoid mistakes.”

After leading early, Abreu fell back as far as sixth, but faith in his car kept hope alive.

“I just needed to do a few things a few laps before I did and fix some angles, then my car got a whole lot better,” Abreu said. “I’m thankful for this team; they do an amazing job. They don’t give up on me. I know my car is going to be there right at the end of these races, so it’s just the discipline of being patient.”

For Abreu, it was his third near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps and he lost the lead to Larson late in the Tri-City Speedway race. Abreu has finished sixth or better in his last three High Limit races with each result being progressively better until his pair of runner-up results.

Third-place finisher Scelzi was the hard charger, advancing from 17th.

“I had a very specific plan; don’t go near [the hole in Turn 1],” Scelzi said. “It worked out. No one wanted to start on the top. I think I gained a couple of rows there on the choose cone and ran the middle, which seemed to be better than right around the bottom.”

Michael “Buddy” Kofoid in fourth and Macri rounded out the top five.

World of Outlaws star and former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was one of 41 entrants, but he was not among the 26 starters. He failed to advance to the Main after finishing eighth in the B Main and seventh in his heat.

Feature Results

A Feature (40 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson[4]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[1]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[17]; 4. 71-Michael Kofoid[5]; 5. 39M-Anthony Macri[3]; 6. 9-Chase Randall[9]; 7. 26-Zeb Wise[14]; 8. 1X-Jake Bubak[15]; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel[10]; 10. 14D-Corey Day[18]; 11. 11-Cory Eliason[12]; 12. 5T-Ryan Timms[11]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 14. 21H-Brady Bacon[22]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[16]; 16. 7S-Robbie Price[19]; 17. 21-Brian Brown[23]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[26]; 19. 52-Blake Hahn[25]; 20. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[21]; 21. 3J-Dusty Zomer[6]; 22. 14-Cole Macedo[7]; 23. 19-Brent Marks[2]; 24. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[8]; 25. 25-Lachlan McHugh[20]; 26. 53-Jack Dover[24]

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway
Race 4: Kyle Larson wins at Tri-City Speedway