For the first time since the 2014 IndyCar season, Graham Rahal went winless in the 2018 season. Will he bounce back in the 2019 season?
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal, the son of team co-owner and former IndyCar driver Bobby Rahal, snapped a 124-race win drought that spanned more than seven seasons when he won the June race at Auto Club Speedway in the 2015 IndyCar season.
From that point until the end of the 2017 season, the 29-year-old Columbus, Ohio native was a borderline championship contender. He came closest to winning the championship in the 2015 season when he entered the season finale at Sonoma Raceway in second place in the championship standings. He ended up finishing in fourth in the standings as the top Honda driver.
Rahal earned another victory in the 2016 season en route to a fifth place finish in the standings. Once again, he was the highest finishing Honda driver in the standings. He went on to earn another two victories in the 2017 season en route to a sixth place finish in the championship standings and was once again mathematically eligible to win the championship heading into the season finale.
Rahal earned these five victories in a 30-race span of under two years despite the fact that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing had operated as a one-car full-time team.
When the team added a second full-time car for Takuma Sato ahead of the 2018 season, it was thought by many that Rahal would take another huge step forward in terms of his championship pursuit.
Rahal was slated to have his best chance yet to win his first career IndyCar championship. This looked even more likely after preseason testing at ISM Raceway. Rahal and Sato combined to top the speed charts in all four of the practice sessions that took place during this test.
But what ended up happening was Rahal ended up having his worst season since he finished in 18th and 19th place in the championship standings in the 2013 season and the 2014 season, respectively.
Rahal failed to win a race in the 2018 season for the first time since the 2014 season, and he ended up finishing in an eighth place tie in the championship standings with Andretti Herta Autosport's Marco Andretti.
Rahal's lone podium finish was his second place finish in the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and he recorded just two other top five finishes, both fifth place finishes, throughout the season.
He did so after recording six podium finishes and eight top five finishes in the 2015 season, four podium finishes and eight top five finishes in the 2016 season and three podium finishes and six top five finishes in the 2016 season.
Now the driver of the #15 Honda is set to enter the 2019 season on a 26-race win drought, which is the second longest win drought of his IndyCar career and the fifth longest win drought among confirmed full-time drivers for the 2019 season.
Will Rahal bounce back in 2019?
While he was certainly not flashy in the 2018 season, Rahal tied his career-high with 12 top 10 finishes, and he did so despite the fact that he finished in 14th place or worse in the four of the 17-race season's final six races.
In other words, even in a "down" season, Rahal was still consistent, which should serve as a great basis for him to build upon as he tries to get back to the level at which he can compete for podium finishes and victories on a regular basis in the 2019 season.
Add to that the fact that Sato drove his #30 Honda to victory in the September race at Portland International Raceway, giving Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at least one victory in each of the last four seasons.
It is clear that the team certainly still have what it takes to compete at the front despite the fact that Rahal did not win any races in the 2018 season, but it isn't like Rahal had anywhere near as awful of a season as he had in the 2013 and 2014 seasons to the point where it would even be worth wondering if he is "fading".
As a whole, Honda teams made huge strides in the 2018 season. For the first time since Chevrolet re-entered the sport in the 2012 season, Honda drivers won more races than Chevrolet drivers did, and they did so quite comfortably (11 to 6). In fact, in four of the Chevrolet drivers' victories, Honda drivers rounded out the rest of the top five positions.
This naturally caused there to be more competition with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing as far as Honda teams are concerned after Rahal finished in first, first and second place among Honda drivers in the championship standings in the 2015 season, the 2016 season and the 2017 season, respectively. In fact, all five of the full-time Honda teams won at least one race in the 2018 season.
Yet Rahal still finished ahead of the first teammate he has had since the 2013 season in the championship standings, as Sato finished in 12th place with two podium finishes and four top five finishes but only eight top 10 finishes. While he did not have any victories and he had just one podium finish and two additional top five finishes to show for it, Rahal consistently ran toward the front of the field in the 2018 season.
If he can continue to do so, he will likely find himself back in victory lane in the 2019 season after at least one race. His success in terms of winning races from the 2015 season through the 2017 season after "getting the monkey off his back" with his first victory since the 2008 season in 2015 and the strength of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing over the course of the past four seasons should bode extremely well for him. Expect him to bounce back next year.
Will Graham Rahal bounce back in the 2019 IndyCar season after a winless 2018 season? How many, if any, victories will he earn in the 2019 season, and where will he finish in the championship standings? The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is the race that is scheduled to get the 2019 season underway, and it is scheduled to do so on Sunday, March 10, 2019 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. Be sure not to miss this race or any of the other races on the 17-race 2019 schedule.