IndyCar: After baby news, Graham Rahal ready to roll at Texas

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As Graham Rahal prepares to get back behind the wheel of his IndyCar this Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, it’s tempting to make a ‘Baby needs a new pair of shoes’ joke.

Graham and his wife, former NHRA drag racing star Courtney Force, announced last week that they are set to welcome their first child in November.

Both are thrilled about becoming parents, but Graham knows how special it is for Courtney in particular.

“Since she retired … It’s a tough road when you step away, and obviously she stepped away for this reason,” Graham said in a Tuesday INDYCAR teleconference.

“But when you lose that competitive spirit – well, you never lose the spirit, but when you lose what you’re competing for or the fire within, it becomes a hard battle.

“So for her, I’m extremely excited, too. I think she’s extremely pumped up for this to finally happen.”

As for the baby’s gender, Graham says they won’t find out until it arrives.

“Courtney wants to keep it a surprise, and she says I’m like the one person in the world that every surprise she tries to plan I ruin, so this is one I can’t,” he noted.

But while Graham may enter the season with a spring in his step, he and Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammate Takuma Sato are aware of the challenge they’ll soon face: Starting the season with a one-day show on a track where 220-mile-per-hour speeds are the norm.

Drivers and teams are in for a long Saturday. When they get to Texas, they’ll have one afternoon practice session to dial in their cars before qualifying and the race.

There’s also a sizable group of newcomers making their Texas debut.

And with the COVID-19 pandemic having halted Firestone’s usual production, IndyCar has mandated a 35-lap limit for tires in the race.

It’s a lot to stay on top of, and both Rahal and Sato emphasized the importance of racing smartly.

“Everybody needs to respect each other and be careful this weekend because it is the most intense race that we probably do all year,” said Graham, who finished a season-best third last year at Texas.

“You combine that with the fact that obviously, points are huge. Each and every weekend, it’s massive. It is anyway in a normal championship. Obviously, this year, that’s magnified.”

“Bringing the car home is the number one thing,” said Sato, who himself comes off a solid 2019 season with wins at Barber Motorsports Park and WWT Raceway at Gateway outside St. Louis.

“Let’s have a fun, great show, but ultimately, as we repeatedly say, this is such a competitive series. At the end of the day, for the last 10 laps, going for the win, I’m sure is going to be a huge battle for sure. But other than that, I just hope everybody really respects each other.”

SATURDAY INDYCAR START TIMES AND TV SCHEDULE:

IndyCar practice: 1 p.m., NBC Sports Gold

IndyCar qualifying5 p.m., NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold

Countdown to Green: 7:30 p.m., NBCSN

IndyCar Genesys 3008 p.m., NBC

IndyCar postrace coverage: 10 p.m., NBCSN

Supercross: Talon Hawkins to debut in Houston in relief of Jalek Swoll

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Talon Hawkins, 19, will make his Monster Energy Supercross debut on a 250 this week in Houston, Texas as a fill-in rider for Jalek Swoll.

During the Anaheim 2 weekend, the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team announced Swoll underwent successful surgery to repair a broken arm suffered in a practice crash.

That same weekend, Hawkins made some noise. He took the lead from teammate Casey Cohran on Lap 2 of the 250 SX Futures Main and led for three laps before he was overtaken by eventual winner Daxton Bennick. Cochran also got around him to push Hawkins to third.

This will not be Hawkins SuperMotocross professional debut, however; he made three Lucas Oil Pro Motocross starts last year with results of 19th at Spring Creek in Millville, Minnesota, 27th at Ironman in Crawfordsville, Indiana and a best finish of 17th in the season finale at Fox Raceway in Pala, California.

Hawkins also has a top-10 finish in the 125 All-Star division at Pala in 2019 riding a Husqvarna.

Speaking with RacerXOnline.com before the Loretta Lynn Amateur Nationals, Hawkins predicted his future with Husqvarna would come down to how he performed in that race.

“It all just comes down to how I perform at Loretta’s,” Hawkins said. “Say I do really well, I get a top three in both classes and do a pretty solid job, I would like to go pro and just kind of finish out the rest of the series. But there’s also the option of waiting a little bit longer, going back out to [Aldon] Baker’s [Factory] or going anywhere and training, and just being prepared. I’m also open to that too. Honestly, it’s whatever the team wants. Whatever we think is the best option is what we’re going to go with. So, I don’t really have a plan right now, just looking into the future.”

Hawkins finished third overall in the 125 B/C and Schoolboy divisions at the Loretta Lynn Amateur Nationals.