FORT WORTH, Texas — Bobby Rahal loves going to the track these days to watch his son drive while letting his team do its job without any meddling from the boss.
“I don’t even wear headphones because I don’t want to talk to anybody,” said the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “It’s their job, and it’s worked.”
Things are different for Graham Rahal in his third season racing for his father’s team.
After finishing 18th and 19th in IndyCar Series points his first two seasons with the team, he is fifth through nine of 16 races this year. RLL also has the highest-ranked Honda, its single-car team trailing only a trio of Team Penske drivers and a three-time series champion driving for Chip Ganassi.
“Things have gone a little smoother, less bickering and fighting on the radio. … The whole atmosphere of the team (last year) wasn’t like it is now,” Graham Rahal said. “I don’t put any blame on him really. He’s a dad, he always wants the best, and so he tries pretty hard to accomplish that.”
The younger Rahal this season has a new race engineer in Eddie Jones and was reunited with Martin Pare and Mike Talbott, two key figures from his time at Newman-Haas.
“It’s not about me. It’s about Graham and the team, and I look back on the previous two years, and I feel we made decisions that weren’t in the best interest of the team or for Graham,” the elder Rahal said. “Now all of a sudden you have three or four guys who had worked together. …. The positive effect of that was immediate.”
Graham Rahal has three podium finishes, including consecutive runner-up finishes at Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis Grand Prix before being fifth and the highest-finishing Honda in the Indianapolis 500. He finished 23rd after crashing in the first race at Belle Isle, but rebounded to finish third the next day.
“We got the guys, I need to get out of the way. I just need to let it happen and it’s certainly, I think, working,” Bobby Rahal said. “I’m just happy that all the things we did are paying off, and one of those things is me getting the hell out of the way.”
He still has plenty to keep him busy on the business side, doing the same things he also was when atop the pit box.
“I’m just not in the inner sanctum, so to speak,” he said.
Kyle Busch is returning to the Xfinity Series for the first time since he was injured in the season opener.
Busch broke his right leg and left foot in a February crash at Daytona. It sidelined him 11 races and although he resumed his Sprint Cup Series schedule last month, the race Saturday at Michigan International Speedway will be his first in NASCAR’s second-tier series.
Busch praised both Joe Gibbs Racing and sponsor Monster Energy for the opportunity to get back in the No. 54 Toyota.
“This is a continuation of my recovery since Daytona, and we hope to continue to add to my schedule going forward through the rest of the year,” he said.
Crew chief Chris Gayle considers Saturday his first race to really build a rapport with Busch. The former engineer has only worked as crew chief for Busch once, at Daytona, because of the injury.
“I knew it was going to be a little bit different than what it was as engineer and driver before, and Daytona didn’t give us the opportunity to complete a full race together,” Gayle said. “My goal in February was and still now is that you have to get to the point where not only do I understand what Kyle is asking for, but I also show Kyle what I can give him. Then the trust develops and continues to build as we do this together.”
NASCAR is considering changing its qualifying format following an interesting session last week at Pocono Raceway.
Denny Hamlin spun with less than a minute remaining in Sprint Cup qualifying and the caution effectively ended the session before four drivers had a chance to post a speed. Hamlin still started Sunday’s race ahead of those four drivers because he had recorded the second-best lap of the final session.
NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said it’s something the series will review.
“Is it the right decision to have a driver, not on purpose, cause a caution and therefore qualify ahead of drivers who have not been able to qualify?” O’Donnell said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Some could say that’s on them, they should have gone out earlier. We’re taking a hard look at that and we’ll make a decision shortly.”
Scott Dixon’s win at Texas last weekend could be the start of a second-half surge that pushes him closer to the IndyCar championship.
The victory was his second of the season and cut his deficit to 43 points behind leader Juan Pablo Montoya headed into this weekend’s race at Toronto.
Riding some momentum, Dixon is hopeful to collect a few more wins as the IndyCar season winds down. Since the 2010 season, Dixon has amassed 15 wins and 12 came in the second half of the season. In 2013, he won four of the final nine races of the 19-event season on the way to earning his third Indy car title.
Dixon swept a doubleheader at Toronto in 2013 and has won at five of the seven remaining circuits on the schedule.
“This team has got a lot of resources,” Dixon said. “You know you’re going to have a shot at winning each weekend. Right now it’s a good start for us, kind of mid-seasonish. But still a long ways to go.”
AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.
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