FORT WORTH, Texas — It may have not been a flashy race for Graham Rahal, but he made the most out of his 248 laps as he takes home third in Saturday's DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Rahal's good balanced No. 15 Fleet Cost & Care Honda led for three out of the 248 laps, but perhaps more important was scoring his first podium since last year's season opener at St. Petersburg. However, he believes it should've been his second as the controversial blocking penalty at Long Beach still looms on the back of his mind. The thought process didn't erase his appreciation of having favorable luck that's been missing throughout the season.
"It feels great," said Rahal. "I think at this point we feel like all year we've worked hard, we've been close, but we just haven't been able to knock the door down. Obviously I'm referring to Long Beach. That one still irks me. You have to move on at some point.
"Our guys have done a great job this year. I think we rebounded well. Old McDonald, my engineer, has done a heck of a job bringing life back into this organization. You can see it, he and Eddie, work so well. With Takuma (Sato), you're seeing that as well."
Sato, who started the race on the pole, led the first 60 laps until disaster struck on the opening pit stop when his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry overshot past his pit stall, hitting a crew member and halting at Ryan Hunter-Reay's box. Sato was able to get his car going, but was eliminated from the fight as he ended up three laps down in 15th.
During the post-race press conference, Rahal was thinking about his teammate's crew member.
"It's unfortunate what happened on the 30 car this evening," Rahal commented. "I hope everybody's okay there. Obviously I haven't been back over to the pits yet."
On the late restart, Rahal almost faced disaster after contact was made with Simon Pagenaud. This was a result of brake checking from race leader Josef Newgarden, who went on to win the race.
Rahal was vocal about the ordeal from Newgarden and contact with Pagenaud.
"There's no doubt. The brake checking from the leader was obscene," said Rahal. "We were well past the start zone, yet the brake checking persisted. We'd go, then bam, everybody is on the brakes. No doubt, I did touch him.
"Luckily it was nose straight to the right rear, which didn't cut his tire or anything, I don't think. There's nothing you can do. I mean, that needs to be addressed, in my opinion, by the stewards. We've had issues with this before. It was clear. Accelerate, brake, accelerate, brake. It's ridiculous. It's dangerous on these things."
Rahal's podium result was accredited by being smart on the 1.5-mile superspeedway, but mostly his team's strong pit strategy. During the first stop, Rahal gained a tremendous five seconds over the race leader. He added that it's more about their efforts than how his in and out laps have been despite knowing that the entire RLL squad are capable of competing with the top-tier teams of the NTT IndyCar Series.
"I really do think it's not the in and out laps, I think a lot of it is the guys in the pits have stepped up their game. I'm proud of them for that," Rahal on his crew. "Particularly towards the end of this string that hasn't been so easy. Do we have speed in the cars? Yeah, we have speed in the cars. Do we need a little more? We do, particularly on the street courses. We're not quite there yet. I think the Andretti cars are very good. Obviously Penske, Ganassi.
"We're going to keep our heads down, keep working through this. We've closed the gap a long way. Your pal sitting right behind you said we wouldn't be competitive this year. I'm not going to let that go. I'm going to keep saying that all year. We definitely closed the gap. We're headed down the right path. So I'm proud of everybody, for sure."
Rahal improves one spot in the championship standings as he'll enter Road America June 23 in eight place, 156 markers behind points leader Newgarden.
"We've been there every race this year," Rahal on his first nine races this season. "It just hasn't come together for us. It's just nice to finally have a good, clean one."