You hear about the 24 hour rule in stick and ball sports. Don’t get too high in the wins and don’t sulk too long in the losses. Well, how does that work in racing? See, the Indy 500 is the biggest race in the world to win. When you have a shot at doing so for two straight years and didn’t get a victory in either, how long does it take to move on from that?
Graham Rahal said that the 24 hour rule doesn’t necessarily exist in the NTT IndyCar Series because you have to learn from your mistakes. You have to, as painful as it is, watch what happened and be sure that something like what kept him out of victory lane at Indy the last two years doesn’t occur again.
“For me, it’s more than 24 hours, but I think really you’ve got to go and look through what went wrong, as we said before, which we’ve done,” he told me on Monday morning. “You’ve got to rally the troops. We’re a very tight-knit group at our team. I think those of you who have been around see that. You have to rally the troops, make sure everybody’s minds are focused forward, forget about the past.
“You have to identify what went wrong because you have to know what to do better or different next time. We’re there. That’s the biggest positive of the group, is just the ability to overcome a lot. We’ll be just fine.”
He had a shot last year. He told us during the Media Day that he felt like his car was better than Takuma Sato’s but it was his teammate drinking the milk in victory lane instead of him. At least, he still finished third.
This past year, Rahal had another good shot at winning. They had a fast car and played the strategy game perfectly. But, on his first pit stop of the second half of the race, the left rear wheel never got tightened and off Rahal went before they had a chance of making it right. When he was speeding on the warmup lane on the south end of the race track, off the wheel came and into the wall his No. 15 Honda went.
Rahal, was scored with a 32nd place finish two weeks ago. “We had them today,” he’d say afterwards. “We didn’t win, but we should have.”
Now, eight days later, he’s not playing the blame game. He says that win as a team and lose as a team and knows exactly what happened by studying the situation and said that it’s time to move on and focus on the rest of the season.
“Where we’re at is we’re in a good spot,” he said. “We’ve done a great job this year. Our two misses are St. Pete and Indy. Both of those running right at the front of the grid. Unfortunately, as Seb knows, you’re not going to win a championship with having errors like that. But we had a great shot to finish on the podium at St. Pete. We had a great shot to win the Indy 500. That’s all we can ask for.
“What happened is I think one mistake that led to multiple others. We don’t need to point down to one single person because all of us have a part in that. We’ve broken it down. Certainly I think going forward we’ll be in a better place.
“As the old saying goes: We win as a team, lose as a team. It hasn’t been discussed internally since after the review. Everybody accepted what went wrong. Now we’re moving forward. Now we’re focused on Detroit and making the rest of this year as best we can.
“If I can say anything, I think the boys did — yes, we know how it ended, but they did an unbelievable job to get us there. Once again, Rahal Letterman Lanigan had great cars come the Indy 500. We’ve been there the last several years. That’s all we can ask for. I’m proud of them for what they’ve done.”
How does one get over that though? For some, it could linger on for a while. See, an Indy 500 win fully supplants you into racing immortality. In the NTT IndyCar Series, there’s a debate on if an Indy win means more than a season championship. Rahal, wasn’t born yet when his dad tasted Indy victory in 1986. He so badly wants to get a victory and cross the yard of bricks first to know what that feeling feels like.
But, to be so close and having a car to win for two straight years and to not get to taste that sweet ice cold glass of milk in victory lane, you have to start getting frustrated and wondering if that feeling will every materialize? How do you close the door on those thoughts and get back into a championship mode?
You have to move on Rahal says. You have to turn the page and look at the bigger picture ahead despite feeling so frustrated by what transpired in the rear view mirror.
“For me, I know I still get texts from a couple of my team guys that are, Man, I’m still pissed off,” Rahal said. “I sent them a photo of I think it’s my five Detroit trophies. I said, Guys, this is what we’re focused on now. Forget about what happened there. Let’s just focus on Detroit. We got Detroit this weekend. No reason to be upset. Let’s go forward.
“So I’m sure, I hope, that’s where everybody’s minds are at right now.”
Is that a role that Rahal embraces as the driver to have to rally the troops? Is this common in the racing world to where the driver is looked upon to be that guy for leadership?
“I mean, I think everybody looks to their driver,” he said. “I think everybody looks how does the driver lead, how does the driver carry themselves, what is that mentality like to keep everybody motivated.
“I certainly try. I feel a lot of pride, I feel a lot of responsibility, to both the 15 and the 30 cars on every given weekend to keep the vibe going, to keep guys smiling, particularly this year, too. Takuma has done a good job keeping his troops happy, as well.
“But the 30 car has had a tough year in general. You got to get those guys going forward because that affects the 15, too. This is one big team. Making sure everybody’s mentality is in the right place is super critical. As I said, we’re a tight-knit group. We all spend a lot of time together.
“So, yeah, I feel as a driver a lot’s on you to keep things moving down the right path, for sure.”
Championship mode is legit for Rahal this year. Other than his Indy crash and a dust up with Alexander Rossi at St. Pete, his car has been a contender everywhere else. He was seventh in the season opener at Barber. He was fifth and third respectively in the Texas doubleheader. He was fifth in the GMR Grand Prix. He had a car capable of winning the Indy 500.
Still, he’s eighth in points, 100 markers out heading into the doubleheader in Belle Isle this weekend. This is the spot of his last victory in 2017 when he swept the weekend. Now, he enters riding a 63 race winless streak and knowing that if he wants a shot at a championship this season, that drought needs to end sooner rather than later.
The good news is, the next three race weekends are strong ones for him. In Belle Isle, he has five top seven results in his last six tries. Then, it’s to Road America next weekend to where he has a top eight result in all five races since we’ve been coming back to the scenic Wisconsin road course. From there, it’s to his home track at Mid-Ohio where he has eight straight top 10 finishes with six of which in the top five.
Does he feel like he has to win over the next few weekends if he wants any shot at the championship come September?
“Yeah, we need more than that,” he told me if a win would suffice to close that gap. “A hundred points is a lot. I mean, I know we’re eighth in points. We went into Indy with a great shot at it and came out of Indy very empty-handed. I know there’s a lot of people who feel the same.
“I know Alex is leading the championship, but still you got Dixie up there. To overcome Scott Dixon is a bigger challenge than anybody else. We need to make sure that we go blow for blow. Newgarden is going to be up there. Simon is having a great year. There are guys that are very consistent racers that don’t really have a lot of issues that are up there. You’re going to have to overcome that.”
Rahal said that it’s a shame because he felt like St. Pete was going to be their slip.
“If we just did everything right, we’d kind of be right there. Unfortunately we didn’t. That’s bitten us here a little,” he continued.
“It’s not over. We’re going to keep our heads down. In essence you have a double points weekend this weekend. Maybe you guys know about Mid-Ohio, my guess is that’s going to be a double. You’re going to have a double points weekend there. There’s a lot of points to make up in a hurry. We just need to put our heads down and do the best that we can.”