I’d hate to be Graham Rahal when he realizes that he’s behind Kurt Busch in the point standings.
That’s right, in one race a NASCAR driver with no open wheel experience to speak amassed more points than a second-generation, would-be legend did in five races. He is the lowest ranking driver of anyone who has started the entire season, and is behind his own teammate Oriol Servia and Mike Conway, who have both missed a race. He’s 24th of twenty full-time drivers.
It’s not entirely Rahal’s fault. He finished dead last in the Indy 500 because of electronic issues, which now offers more points than the first four races combined. He’s had some on track issues that weren’t of his making either. Still, I’d love to say that this is just some slump, but after a while it stops becoming a slump and becomes more, ‘that’s what you do.’ Graham burst onto the scene, winning his first race in 2008, but since he’s under-produced. After struggling through 2010 with a part time schedule spread over four teams he’s managed just four podium finishes in four years, this despite having one of the better sponsors packages in the sport.
After winning St. Petersburg in 2008 he was on a trajectory that could have placed him at the top of the sport, instead he’s been eclipsed by James Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball, Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden and potentially Sage Karam if he’s not careful, in both performance and profile, and ya’know, that sucks. I think I can speak for all Indycar fans when I say I really wanted him to be better.
Let’s be honest, as open wheel fans we all want to see a continuation of the two-generation feud between the Andretti’s and the Rahals. It could be an almost Game Of Thrones-like battle, and that’s the sort of stuff that gather’s media attention. It’s a ready to eat story line that can be fed to mainstream media and casual fans. The problem is the Andrettis have built one of the strongest organizations in the Verizon Indycar Series, and the Rahals are off in the weeds.
It’s not just me. ESPN just wrote a story about how awesome a Rahal/Andretti feud would be. And it would totally be awesome, but in order for that to happen the Rahal family has to step the hell up. Right now it’s like the Lannisters taking on House Charlton.
No driver would survive in the Indycar series with results like Graham if he didn’t have a famous last name. J.R. Hildebrand got booted from his ride last year for performance issues. Tristian Vautier looks to be one-and-done after failing to impress with Sam Schmidt. James Jake left the sport after no one was willing to pay him, and E.J. Viso can’t get a ride he doesn’t pay for. No one has hired Conor Daly, yet Graham Rahal continues to be a nonfactor lap-after-lap, race after race with a $12.6 million sponsorship.
Even when you compare Rahal to Takuma Sato, who also did a year driving for RLLR when it was a single-car operation, and Sato comes out ahead.
Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be a Graham Rahal fan. One of the first things I bought once Lids took over Indycar merch was a Graham Rahal shirt. I just need him to do something. Maybe it’s unfair to expect Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to compete with Andretti Autosports, but they should at least be competitive with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Josef Newgarden. Newgarden has out-performed Rahal since entering the series on a smaller budget, and Newgarden has been better with the fans too.
I want to pick a side between Andretti and Rahal, but you can’t do that when one driver has reached the best form his career and another can’t find speed to save his life.
Right now Graham Rahal, son of a legend who had the benefit of every opportunity coming through the ladder is behind a NASCAR driver who showed up for one race. That will change this weekend in Detroit, but it likely wont’ solve the underlying issue, and that can only be changed by Team Rahal finding speed, and more sponsorship, probably in that order.
I’m a big fan of comebacks and second acts. It’s not to late for Graham.