INDIANAPOLIS — There just seems to be something about Graham Rahal this year that seems like the time is now for him to finally sip the milk in victory circle here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The second generation driver enters the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) arguably with as much momentum as he’s ever had in his 14 years that he’s been doing this.
Rahal, 32, has finished worse than seventh just one (St. Pete) in five races run this year. He’s had a top five in three straight races now and sits fifth in points. The last couple of times that he’s been in this situation was 2015 and 2016. Those were the two best all around seasons that he’s ever had in this spot.
Still, this year just feels different. This feels right.
“Yeah, I feel good about the performance all year,” Rahal said on Fast Friday morning. “I think the boys have done a great job. Engineer core has done a great job to put us pretty consistently competitive. And even the places we have struggled, Barber a little bit, or even last week, we were able to overcome that and still salvage really good finishes at those places.
“I do feel a sense of momentum. I also feel that everybody is performing at a pretty high level right now. As I said, last week is a perfect example when things really went sideways on us, we were still able to come up with a plan and get the mileage necessary to finish in the top 5.
“Maybe in years past that would have been kind of a crushing blow to it and we wouldn’t have been able to overcome it, but I think this year everybody’s eyes are on the prize, and it seems like we’re doing a great job with that.
“Yeah, I feel like our boys have done an excellent job in the off-season, and I’m seeing it carry through here so far at IMS and on the oval days.
“We’re excited for today, see what we have. We think we have a really, really strong race car. So if we can qualify towards the front, then I don’t need to worry about that plus/minus thing too much.
“The plus, what is it for years, Tag Heuer most positions gained or whatever. I think I won that thing about five years in a row, but I’m not super proud of that. So hopefully we can qualify up front and not have to worry about it.”
Rahal, is hoping to make his 14th start in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. That would be one more than his dad, Bobby Rahal, had ever made in this race. Does the experience he’s learned in the past 13 starts lend him to believe that the time is now?
Rahal, finished third last year. His teammate won. They look the part again this month as Rahal just seems like a guy that the stars are aligning for. His dad and boss, Bobby Rahal, told me that while they finished 1-3 a year ago, he feels like their cars are even better this time around.
“I do, yes,” Rahal told me on Friday morning too on if his cars are better this year compared to last. “I think we learned a lot of good things in the off-season. Well, not just the off-season, but after Indy of last year, we did a lot of good things. I think the engineering group has done a very good job over the course of that period of time. Our relationship with Honda has been very strong and collectively we’ve discovered some things together.
“I do feel that we are in a better position than we were last year. That’s not saying, though, that it takes a lot more than that to win the race. But still, I’m very pleased with where we are, what we’ve done, and I think as a team we’re better across the board than we were a year ago.
“Mainly it’s the same people but just greater commitment, greater dedication. Just realizing the talents that they have. I’m pretty pleased right now.”