By Josh Farmer, Contributing Writer
LONG BEACH, California — Graham Rahal recovered from early contact with Simon Pagenaud to claim fifth in Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Starting fifth, Rahal tagged the back of Pagenaud’s No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet sending him into the wall before the field got to Turn 1. The incident didn’t damage the No. 15 TOTAL Honda as Rahal continued after being assessed a drive-thru penalty for avoidable contact.
The penalty dropped Rahal to 22nd as the team then opted to try a three-stop strategy. The 29-year-old from Columbus, Ohio made his first scheduled stop on Lap 12 and picked up some track position after that as the majority of the field pitted.
He pushed through traffic by using his 200 seconds of push-to-pass and by Lap 30 was running 12th. He then made his second pit stop and continued his fight forward. His race took a turn for the better the yellow flag flew on Lap 60 when Zachary Claman De Melo crashed.
Having already pitted on Lap 44, Rahal stayed out as multiple cars pitted under the yellow which promoted him to seventh for the Lap 65 restart. He made quick work of Marco Andretti’s No. 98 US Concrete Honda before the yellow flew again on Lap 72 for a multi-car crash in the hairpin.
Rahal lined up fifth on the restart right behind Zach Veach (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda). On the final 10-lap run to the finish, Rahal was unable to get around Veach, but kept Andretti at bay to claim his second top five of the season.
Rahal apologized for the early contact with Pagenaud and lamented that given how quick his car was, he could have challenged race winner Alexander Rossi for the win without the penalty.
“I’m sorry about what happened to Simon,” said a dejected Rahal. “That’s not how I like to do things. It’s just like St. Pete, the rears locked up and I barely made the corner. I think Dixon bailed out because he thought I wasn’t going to make it. It hurt my race too obviously with getting the penalty, having to go to the back and battle our way through. I think we had a car that could have had a shot at Rossi today.”
Rahal enjoyed fighting his way through and was pleased with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racings progress so far this season. Rahal now sits third in the standings, just 33 points out of the top spot occupied by Rossi, heading into next weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
“I passed more cars here today that I have passed in a long time,” said Rahal.
“We had a lot of fun but we want to win. To be third and finish all the laps so far and finish in the top-five a couple of times and get a podium so far is good but this was our best weekend yet. We deserved to be there this weekend and that’s why it’s a little bittersweet.”