Next season I feel will be a big one for American Graham Rahal in the Izod IndyCar Series. He returns to Chip Ganassi Racing for his second year and appears to be improving in each of his four seasons.
Rahal has the confidence and the skill level to win not just the Indianapolis 500, but the series championship. He's a smart, smooth and patient driver. He's not afraid to be aggressive when needed. He just needs a little luck and to have people stop treating his car like a punching bag.
Rahal has 62 career starts in the series with only one win, but I feel he should have been in victory lane multiple times last year. Lady Luck just had other things in mind.
He had a dominate car in nearly every race. Many times he was the best of the Ganassi four-car stable, but his results make it seem like he was neglected for the Target cars of Dario Franchitti or Scott Dixon, who also happen to be Rahal's teammates.
It seemed like Franchitti and Dixon were getting special treatment on qualifying setups and would out qualify Rahal who seemed very capable of starting up front. By Rahal not having the setups he would be forced to start mid-pack and it caused him some troubles.
Twice last year Rahal was wrecked on the first lap of the race and neither time was it his fault. Those wrecks were caused by him having to start mid-pack and getting around drivers that don't drive very smart and they got into him.
Those races were in Edmonton and New Hampshire where Rahal was having a good weekend and I picked him as my darkhorse to win in both races.
Six of the final seven races Rahal had one of the best cars in the whole field, but he was either taken out by something that was out of his control or a pit-stop mishap by his crew.
All of the races could have been won by Rahal or at the very least Rahal would have finished in the Top Five.
Here's how he fared:
Kentucky- 12th. Rahal didn't get enough fuel on the last pit-stop while running second at the time.
Japan- 12th. Franchitti took him out on an early restart while Rahal was runing in the Top Four.
Baltimore- 10th. Bad pit-strategy after a lengthy yellow late in race pushed Rahal back in the pack. He was running second at the time
New Hampshire- 26th. A first lap wreck caused by Mike Conway sunk Rahal's chances.
Mid-Ohio- 24th. Rahal was spun out by Danica Patrick.
Edmonton- 25th. A first lap wreck caused by Alex Tagliani took Rahal out of contention.
The whole season wasn't all gloom and doom for the second-generation driver. Rahal had two runner-up finishes and a third in the 100th year of the Indianapolis 500.
The Indianapolis 500 is a race where I feel Graham Rahal is on the verge of winning. After wrecking in his first two attempts, he finished 12th in 2010 running for his dad Bobby Rahal's team and last year nabbed a third-place finish.
Next year is Rahal's year. Ganassi has won the last three series championships with Dario Franchitti, so this organization can obviously win. The other plus is the new car and engine packages. Everyone starts off fresh and with the same resources. With nothing to base each race package off of since it's the first time through with this car, the best team and drivers always shine.
It couldn't happen to a better driver or person if/when it does. Rahal is the American driver that the series needs to be competitive for a title again. Plus he's a second generation driver that fans can relate to.
Rahal is also very good with fans and an easy guy to root for. I have personally seen him every year at Indy sign an autograph or take a picture with anyone that comes up to him no matter what day it is or what's going on. He treats everyone like they're important and I really appreciate that he takes time out for the fans.
Most of the popular drivers are hard to get to, but not Rahal.
Rahal also started a charity auction for the late Dan Wheldon. He's not pocketing any of the money himself and as of today he's raised over $400,000 dollars for the foundation.
He deserves to not just be a champion, but to be a champion multiple times. I think next year is the first of many championships for Rahal.