Monday, August 29, 2016

Rahal Shoots Past Hinchcliffe for IndyCar Win at Texas

Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

James Hinchcliffe led the Firestone 600 for 76 days and 188 of 248 laps, but in the end Graham Rahal snatched the six-shooters right out of Hinchcliffe’s hands. The steal was figurative, of course, but the emotional impact on Hinchcliffe was the same as if Rahal had mugged him under the rain of Texas-shaped confetti in Victory Lane.

Saturday night the Verizon IndyCar Series resumed the rain-delayed race that began back on June 12 at Texas Motor Speedway. Under the lights of the Great American Speedway, the driver of the No. 5 Arrow Honda for Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports seemed poised to collect his first win since April 2015, and to put on the Charlie 1 Horse cowboy hat and shoot the guns that go with the Foyt-Rutherford Trophy.

Graham Rahal [No. 15, foreground] edged James Hinchcliffe [No. 5, background] by 0.008 seconds Saturday night, the closest finish in Texas Motor Speedway history and a 1-2 result for Honda.
Credit: Honda Racing
Instead, Rahal’s No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda slipped across the line 0.0080 seconds ahead of Hinchcliffe, the closest IndyCar finish at Texas and the fifth-closest margin in IndyCar history.

After climbing out of his car on pit road, Hinchcliffe walked away from the cameras and toward the track for a moment, ostensibly to gather himself before facing the media.

“It was a tough finish, for sure. It was a great race,” Hinchcliffe said. “The Arrow Electronics Honda was just a rocket ship. We built the thing to be good over a tire stint, which is always the name of the game here in Texas, tire degradation is key. We haven’t had a late-finish, three-wide battle here in Texas since 2011. It was tough. We kept a lot of guys at bay.”

Not surprisingly, Rahal was one of the drivers involved in that 2011 battle, along with the late Justin Wilson. Wilson capitalized when Rahal made an unforced error by brushing the wall just before the end of the race, slowing Rahal’s momentum enough for Wilson to score what would be his final series win.

Saturday night, however, Rahal and Kanaan tag-teamed Hinchcliffe on a Lap 240 restart. Kanaan was on new tires; Rahal’s Firestones were not new, but not as old as Hinchcliffe’s. Still Hinchcliffe managed to hold off Rahal and Kanaan until the last lap.

“I had to set that up,” Rahal said. “James did a great job tonight. In all honesty, he deserved to win this thing; he led from start to finish. You’ve just got to lead that last lap. I knew I couldn’t get him on the high side. We had a hole underneath Hinch and we had to take it. I had to set him up and get him thinking I was going high and then cut across. I’m so proud of this Penn Grade team and thankful to everybody that supports us like Steak ‘n Shake, United Rentals, Hyatt and more. It means the world to me.”

As was the case in other victory lanes across various forms of motorsports the last few weeks, the winning driver paid tribute to Bryan Clauson, whose recent death from injuries sustained in a midget race sent shock waves across the entire racing community, much like the death of Justin Wilson did a year ago at Pocono Raceway.

“In all honesty, I was thinking about Clauson, but more importantly I was thinking about Justin," Rahal said. "He and I had a great battle here a few years ago, and he got me at the end. I kept thinking about him the last few laps. I definitely miss that guy. He was a great human being and a hell of a race car driver.”

Complete unofficial finishing order:

1 Graham Rahal
2 James Hinchcliffe
3 Tony Kanaan
4 Simon Pagenaud
5 Helio Castroneves
6 Charlie Kimball
7 Carlos Munoz
8 Will Power
9 Juan Pablo Montoya
10 Sebastien Bourdais
11 Alexander Rossi
12 Marco Andretti
13 Ryan Hunter-Reay
14 Pippa Mann
15 Max Chilton
16 Mikhail Aleshin
17 Jack Hawksworth
18 Ed Carpenter
19 Scott Dixon
20 Takuma Sato
21 Conor Daly
22 Josef Newgarden 

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