INDYCAR: Rahal Tops A Thriller In Texas; Beats Hinchcliffe In IndyCar Photo Finish

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Graham Rahal celebrates his win in the Verizon IndyCar Series' Firestone 600 Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway. (IndyCar photo)

Graham Rahal celebrates his win in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Firestone 600 Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway. (IndyCar photo)

FORT WORTH, Texas — Graham Rahal called his shot on Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Rahal said following final practice that he “had a rocketship” and he was “taking it to the front” in the resumption of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Firestone 600, postponed two months from June 26 due to rain.

On lap 248 of 248, he did just that, passing race-long leader James Hinchcliffe entering turn three and holding off the Canadian’s last-gasp effort on the outside lane to edge out the victory by .0080 of a second in the fifth-closest finish in Indy car history.

Leading only the final lap en route to the win, Rahal’s triumph was the fourth of his Indy car career and first since Mid-Ohio last August, as well as the closest finish in Texas Motor Speedway’s 20-year history.

Saturday night was also the 11th time in Indy car history that the race winner led only the final lap, with the last being Hinchcliffe’s last lap pass of Takuma Sato at Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2013.

“That was incredible!” Rahal exclaimed in victory lane. “I had to set (that pass) up. James was great all night and in all honesty, he deserved to win that race. He led it start to finish, but we led that last lap.”

“I knew I couldn’t get him on the high side. Everybody kept pushing me up the track — even when we were three-wide they just kept coming up — but I’ll tell you what, I made it work and found the way through when I had to. We just kept our nose clean and got to the end. When I got the hole, I had to take it … and I’m perfectly fine with waiting two months (to finish a race) if I get to celebrate like this every time.”

The win also served to erase the sting of Rahal’s near-miss at Texas from 2012, when the late Justin Wilson passed him inside two laps to go and stole the win away.

“This one … I was thinking about (Bryan) Clauson, but in all honesty, I was thinking about Justin. He and I had a great battle a few years ago, and he got me then, but I was thinking about him and definitely pushing hard for him tonight. I miss that guy. He was a great human being and a hell of a race car driver, and this one’s for him.”

Hinchcliffe led a combined 188 laps on the night, utterly dominating the long green flag stints that characterized the race for most of its duration. He survived an early scrap with Ryan Hunter-Reay when the race officially went back green from its 76-day hiatus at lap 75, dominating all the way through his first pit stop at lap 120.

Giving up the lead briefly to Helio Castroneves after the stop, Hinchcliffe worked his way back forward and resumed command on the 127th circuit, attempting to run off into the Texas night at that point. By the 100 to go mark, Hinchcliffe had a 10 second advantage over Graham Rahal and he held the lead despite his second pit stop at lap 164.

Hinchcliffe’s final stop came on lap 207, where he came out 1.8 seconds ahead of Ed Carpenter as the two raced for the lead and the win.

The road to the checkered flag would be complicated, however, when the lapped car of Scott Dixon spun to the bottom of turn one while racing second-running Carpenter in an effort to get back to the lead lap, drawing the caution with 35 to go and setting the stage for a barn-burning finish after numerous cars — led by Castroneves — pitted for fresh Firestone tires.

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