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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

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).