INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Graham Rahal had the best spot possible to watch rival teams Penske Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing in a dramatic duel for victory in the Indianapolis 500.
He only wishes he had the horsepower to make a run at them.
While the two teams powered by Chevrolet kept swapping the lead in the closing laps Sunday, with Juan Pablo Montoya ultimately taking the checkered flag to give owner Roger Penske his 16th victory, Rahal was left to finish as the best of the Honda entries in fifth.
His longtime foil, Marco Andretti, was sixth, the only other Honda in the top 10.
“The Chevy was just in a league of its own, unfortunately, on horsepower, and I was happy we were as close as we were at the end, to be honest, because I didn’t think there was any hope,” Rahal said. “We were good at times, bad at times, but we ended no a high note.”
Chevrolet dominated the race, its drivers leading all but seven laps — those led by Carlos Munoz, Alex Tagliani and Justin Wilson were mostly due to the pit cycles.
So in many ways, Rahal felt as if he won simply by being the best of his manufacturer.
“I said to my boys coming into today, ‘No matter what, there’s two things I want: If we couldn’t win, to be the top Honda and finish with the top guys in points,'” Rahal said.
His solid run kept him from losing too much ground. Montoya and Power entered the day atop the series standings, so that won’t change. Helio Castroneves had been third, and Rahal had been tied with Dixon for fourth place — again, the best of the Honda drivers.
Rahal certainly put a positive spin on his fifth-place finish, though his chase for victory lane will gnaw at him for another year. His father Bobby Rahal won the race in 1986, and for years the younger Rahal has been hearing questions about when he’ll finally break through.
He nearly did it in 2011, finishing third for Ganassi. But his run on Sunday was by far his best in three attempts with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Speaking of his team, the strong finish came just days after part owner David Letterman retired from late-night television. Letterman arrived at the track early Sunday, hanging out with the team in Gasoline Alley, and then watched in rapt attention as Rahal tried to work his Honda through the field from his starting position in the sixth row.
“I mean, we wanted to win for Dave, and I think we all knew we were going to have an uphill battle,” Rahal said. “At the end of the day, we finished a lot closer than I expected.”
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