THE MODERATOR: Let's welcome the winner of the Firestone 600 to the podium, Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda. You led one lap tonight —
GRAHAM RAHAL: That's all I needed to.
THE MODERATOR: You're the 14th driver in IndyCar history to lead only the last lap of the race and win, first time since ironically James Hinchcliffe in Sao Paulo in 2013. Take us through your night and through the conclusion.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I had a really good car all night. It was a matter of trying to bide our time a little bit and dial it in slightly. We just needed to add some front wing, and then once we did that, I mean, the car really kind of came to us, and I didn't really change anything after the first or second stop.
Just trying to preserve my tires that last stint and get to lap 205 on the dash before I would pit so that I would have a short stint, 43 laps or so to the finish. Obviously we did that, and I played it just like I wanted to, and I came in, and those yellows came out, which was nice because it closed us up, because honestly I felt — I think I had the best car, I just kind of lost touch with Hinch, which sounds funny because he dominated. I just felt like if I could get back to him, if I could — that I felt like my pace was extremely good, and particularly for whatever reason tonight, my car would toe up really well.
I just thought if I could get there, we'd have a good chance, and then we went fighting at the end there, a lot of guys obviously have to talk to Helio a little bit and see what that was all about, but close call there with Helio and Kanaan and I was in the middle, and next thing I know, Helio decided he wanted to go from the first lane to the top and try and take Tony and I with him. It was ugly, but luckily we made it through and bounced around a little bit, recovered, and just kind of pulled her back up and gained back up on the lead pack.
Again, as you guys could see, once I could get there, I could drive through them. It was just a matter of trying to pick your spot, and very fortunately at the end, I knew I was going to have to try to take Hinch to the top side because there was only one way actually clear him, which was to the bottom, and I was just very lucky it worked, and I have to thank Hinch a lot because, first of all, we're flying home together tonight, so at least it's not going to be awkward, and second of all, he gave me some good room at the bottom and didn't end up in tears. Have to thank him for good, clean driving.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Q. This was one of the best races here in a long time. Were you guys at all conscious of the need to put on a good show here or is that just something the promoter thinks about?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I mean, we love putting on good shows. I thought tonight the conditions were perfect. Everything worked out well. In fact, the sunset being when it was, it allowed us to go out there and run what I think was a bit of a safer race actually because it was clear, like the sun was further down at the start of the race, a little better for your visual, and good clean green race for the most part. Obviously there was some action there at the end, cautions, so to speak, but we put on a great show for Eddie, but we put on a great show for the fans, and I think anybody that watched that race, they can come back next year and understand that when they come to an IndyCar race they're going to get the best racing possible.
You know, it was a great event, a lot going on, geez, four wide and pretty nuts. But it's also a lot different than what it used to be. It is not just flat-out easy pack racing anymore. I mean, you were lifting a heck of a lot in traffic, but the way these cars suck up nowadays, the draft is huge so it just makes the racing awesome.
A lot of fun tonight. A lot of fun. Obviously the sparks were crazy. One time going through 4, it looked like somebody just put a camera right between my eyes and set it off because the flash was so bright right in my face. But it was pretty cool, and a lot of fun for everybody.
Q. Were you motivated by the — were they two six-shooters did you get to fire?
GRAHAM RAHAL: No, you know what I was motivated by a little bit is I kept thinking about Justin there, because a couple years ago we had a great battle here. We came up a little short, and quite honestly I was picturing him shooting those things off there the last couple of laps, just trying to get it done for ourselves here.
Big special weekend for myself, obviously my wife is here, which is cool. She doesn't get to come that often, so it was a lot of fun. She's seen Fontana and this one, the two most nerve-racking races you could ever see, I think.
I'll be honest, what motivated me the most was this team deserves it. We have had our backs up against the wall this year. We've been just inside the top 10, but nothing has come easy for us, nothing. You look at our performance last weekend, we had zero straight line speed, couldn't figure it out all week, couldn't figure it out at the test. Just frustrated. Guys kept heads down, kept working hard, and this is going to lift their spirits a lot, and hopefully we can go into Watkins and have a good run. I didn't want to go through this year without a win, and on that last yellow, I was telling myself this could be my chance, you'd better get it done, and we're just lucky it all worked out.
Q. Can you explain over the fuel stint, I don't know how many laps, maybe close to 40, I don't know if that's too many, but how does the car change, because it seems like your car was good through the entire stint.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, mine was, but I would say for me, my Firestones were very consistent. I had a lot of front tire degradation. I was having to take the early laps a bit slower to try to save that outside front. You could see Kanaan and Dixon even a little bit quicker than me, Yates, but 15 laps or so into the stint I closed back up because my car, I think, was better on the tires in the long run.
Look, I mean, we're trying to save those tires a little bit and go fight at the end. It was a lot of fun.
Q. What does it mean to you to be able to deliver Honda an outright win head-to-head given how tough this year has been for them?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, it's been tough, but I've got to be honest with you, I just feel like maybe people don't see it this way, but I feel like we've been Honda's best team as a single-car team the last couple years, so it's just very rewarding for us because obviously the proof is in the pudding and this year hasn't necessarily shown that. It has on road courses as an entire package, so it means a lot to us as a team. Trust me, we take a lot of pride in representing Honda. For us as a family, the Rahal family, it's far more than just an engine manufacturer; we're obviously Honda dealers, and it means the world to us to have success on Sunday and sell on Monday, so to speak, and it's a good week because we're actually headed off to the grand opening of our Honda State College store so at least we can go talk about great things. But it's special for us to get a win for Honda for sure, and be able to call corporate on Monday and have a good talk.
Q. It's been 77 days since this race started; how much were you thinking about the last 172 laps of the Firestone 600 through those five races we've had since then?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Not once. I haven't thought about it once. It's a very strange thing actually. We came down here this morning, and I don't know, it was just a weird day to kind of get into the groove of it. It was like, we landed so early, we had so much time to kill, then such a short practice, and then we just go racing. It was just a very strange sort of thing for me.
But I haven't thought about it at all until this week. This week I knew, again, because of the year that we've had, it was an opportunity. I felt like in June we had a great race car, we just didn't get to see it through, and tonight obviously from the front, we went forward, and it was a great night. Glad it worked out. I'll be excited to come back here next year, and hopefully we can repeat.
Q. At what point did you realize you had cleared Hinchcliffe?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I had mid corner, but I knew he would come back around, because the high groove, if you could stay there, you're just more wound up, so I figured he'd get a run. But when I came out of 4 and I looked in my mirror, I thought I was going to get it. I was telling Robin a second ago, when I got to the stripe, I started to like raise my arm and then I was like, make sure his roll hoop says 2, and looked over and I could see it said 2, and I knew I had it. Just a cool night.
Q. You did realize that maybe you were doing it a little too early?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I started to lift and I thought I was clear. I knew it was going to be very close, but I thought his closing rate was going to have to be extremely quick to completely clear me because he was pretty far back at the exit of 4. So I thought I had him, and like I said, those LED panels that IndyCar started using are awesome because I could clearly see at that time that his car said No. 2, and good battle. A lot of fun. If people don't love that type of racing, they don't love racing. That was as good as it gets.
Q. Eddie showed us a picture, part of Tony's car was on yours?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, Tony had Ed's car on his, Helio had everybody's car on his, and I had a piece of Tony's, which I don't think I ever hit Tony. I did touch Hinchcliffe. I was outside of him. We were three wide through the dogleg, and he just came up, and I did touch him into 1, but I don't remember ever touching Tony, so I don't know where it came from, but yeah, I've got a little piece of memorabilia from him.
Q. So when you actually did hit Tony is when you went four wide there heading into 3. Did you know you were four wide at that time or when did you find that out later?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I don't know that that was the time. You probably saw better than I did quite frankly. But I knew I was in the middle of Helio and Tony, and we went into 3, and Helio decided to ignore his spotter saying 2 outside, and next thing I know, he's hitting me right in the shark fin and I'm hitting Tony. That's just not smart driving. We're going to have a talk about that a little bit. He's obviously a very experienced guy, a guy that's won here, a guy that's very hungry to prove he can still win with the best team out here, but man, you've got to be — you've got to be smarter than that. You've got a lot of space. There were three of us in the top lane, and there's plenty of room below you. Even if you are four wide, that means the guy on the bottom has got two and a half lanes to mess around with.
I'll have to go back before I might say too much. I need to go back and watch, and I'll definitely watch this one.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Q. I asked Tony earlier when he came in about you guys bumping into each other and hitting each other. That's not indicative of the IndyCar Series. How crazy was it out there when you guys were trying to keep control of the cars?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, everybody, the cars moving around a lot. I've got to talk to TK and make sure he knows, I don't think he — I'm not sure that he knows that Helio hit me before pinballing into him, so I'm just glad he and I are okay. But you know, it was just tough racing, tough racing. A lot of guys out there. The three of us — I don't think Tony has won this year, so we're winless. So we're all going to push as hard as we can to get it. Fortunately we all came out in one piece.
I mean, I don't know how Helio even stayed on our lap because when I saw his car, it looked like a tank driving around it had so much stuff on it. But somehow he stayed on our lap, and next thing I know he's — it reminded me a bit of a Cup race. Next think I know he was running up with us, and I'm like, what the hell? Where did he come from? Anyway, good fun.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about how instrumental your spotter is in a race like this, and if there's even time for him to tell you what's going on on those restarts when there's so many cars three and four wide?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, you know this, as well. It's constant communication. Steve does a great job. But tonight I had to keep my eyes particularly peeled at all times to my mirrors. I always trust the spotter but I want to make sure in a lot of cases that we gave ourselves a little extra room. Thankful for those guys. They keep us safe.
Q. You spoke earlier about what happened a couple years ago with Justin Wilson. How much of a weight is off your shoulder now regarding Texas Motor Speedway after what happened four years ago?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it's just nice to kind of tame the beast a little bit. This place is a tough place to win. It's just tough to win. So it feels nice. To not go through this year winless is the biggest pressure I feel off my shoulders. I can't tell you how pleased I am to get that over because not that it would have been a dry spell like last time, but I don't want to hear — want to have to hear the questions again, so it was nice to just get that.
We were very good at the Watkins Glen test, too, so I hope we can have a good run next weekend.
An Interview with James Hinchcliffe
THE MODERATOR: We'd now like to welcome our second-place finisher of tonight's Firestone 600 to the podium, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, James Hinchcliffe. James, your best finish since you won at NOLA Motorsports Park last year, but I'm not sure that's a factor after the night you had.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: No, it's not, if I'm honest with you.
THE MODERATOR: Tell us about your night, please.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: My night was great until about eight minutes to go.
You know, we picked up right where we left off in June. The Arrow Electronic car was just an absolute rocketship. We got the lead the first half of this race back in June by really building a car to take care of tires because that's been always the name of the game here in Texas. And we did that. We did that better than anybody by a good chunk, too. I'm so proud of the guys. I'm so proud of the car they put together to roll off the truck still in totally different conditions — I mean, we were here in June, we had 10 minutes of practice, which was only six minutes of practice, and having the best car I've ever had at Texas, maybe we were trying too hard at every other race.
But stops were great, strategy was great, I thought we were great in traffic. Like I said, we built the car for long runs, so that first caution, I was like, all right, that's unfortunate but it's the last stop, everything should be okay. We still have 30 something laps to go. And then as they kept coming and the laps counted down and down, I knew it was going to be harder and harder, and we held off the charges from Ed and from Tony.
But ultimately that call to come and get tires at the end there, that last stop, I think that was the difference for Graham, and it wasn't much. I gave him the bottom into 3. I had to make a decision because I thought he could get the run off of 2, and when I was going side by — that whole last run, the last five, six laps I was side by side with Tony and I was timing the line. I've seen so many races won here on the high line, coming to the line because you just have that momentum off of 4, and I was going — thinking back to my IRL Classic days and Sam Hornish Jr.'s tricks and all the rest of it, but man, Graham just pulled through 3 and 4 like no one had all night.
I mean, we made a run again on him at the end there and it got pretty close, but congrats to him, and like I said, big credit to the team. It's just tough having a car like that and leading that many laps but not the one that counted.
THE MODERATOR: Obviously you were out front most of the evening, incredible racing going on behind you. Tony was in here saying it kind of reminded him of the old days.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: 100 percent. Starting out a bit with tire degradation, but certainly at the end we put on a hell of a show for the fans, and that's what we're here for. It would have been a lot more boring if some car just won by half a straightaway.
But the racing seemed pretty good, and I can't thank Graham and Tony and Simon and all the guys up there enough. We put ourselves in some pretty precarious situations tonight and everybody came out okay. Nobody did anything stupid, and everybody played nice, very respectful. There was some racing, thought. I had a blast. That's the problem. I had an absolute blast. Had I not led every lap of the race, I would be much happier than I am.
But it was good old-fashioned mile-and-a-half racing. This is why I wish we had more mile-and-a-half tracks on the schedule. This is a lot of fun for us. People have got to pedal the car, it's not just wide-open racing the whole stint like it was in days past with the car.
Yeah, I'm kind of rambling. Sorry. Man, I really wanted a hat. I've been running this race now for like eight years without a cowboy hat.
You think you'd look good in a cowboy hat?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I'd look good with a winner's trophy, man. I don't care what you wear on your head.
There was some criticism among some of the drivers about the racing from Graham late in the race saying that maybe it wasn't as much as he wanted, they backed out?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: You know, it's tough. I really only got beside Graham on the last lap, so I can't really comment on it the same way. I do know he got into the back of me on the front straightaway a couple times, which is a pretty sketchy thing to get involved with. But I know what it's like. Sometimes you get a good run and there's nowhere to go and it's hard to hit the brakes at 220. Kind of tough for me to comment on that just because I'm going to sound like a bit of a jerk. I didn't really see him all night until the end.
I don't know how much you saw of the back of your car, but it looked like the 4th of July back there. Is that something you could feel going around the corners? Did it kind of bother you? Did it upset you?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Let me tell you a little story about a guy named Allen McDonald. Allen McDonald is my race engineer, and you could take a bunch of blank white race cars with blank white helmets and drivers wearing blank white suits, put them out on a racetrack, and you can tell Allen McDonald's car because it's the one that's sparking the most. We call him Allen McDown-A-Flat because he always runs the car lower than anybody else. So after a year and a half driving Allen's car I've become pretty immune to bumps and shocks coming out from the floor of my race car.
But puts on a cool show. It actually is like our way to distract the drivers behind me, too, in night races.
Going into Turn 3 when Graham dives to your inside, what were you planning to do between that point and the front stretch?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Well, like I said, I'd gone the last kind of four laps before that side by side with TK with him on the bottom and just kind of the big arc into 3 and then pulled tight mid corner, got a bit of draft off the side of his car and had the momentum coming off of 4 to just be pipping him at the line, and I was planning it out, I was kind of expecting it still to be TK, and all those last few laps we were ahead at the line. It was close, but we were a nose up, and that's what I was just kind of hoping to do.
So when we cleared Tony and it was just me and Graham coming down to the checkered, I thought, the momentum is on the outside. I feel like I've kind of seen it here 10 times before in races in years past, and I thought we were still going to be able to do it. But man, he rolled through the center of 3 and 4 with a whole lot of speed. He cleared me — I hadn't been next to a car all night that cleared me that quickly. You know, he had the pace when he needed to. That was the time to make that move, and like I said, credit to him.
Were you guys close at all to coming in for tires on the last three cautions?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Definitely. We considered it every time. It was a tough call because as the laps wind down you've got fewer laps to make up track position that you give up. Ultimately with TK and Graham taking it and with so few cars left on the lead lap and all the lap cars getting run through pit lane, you can sit there and play Monday morning quarterback all you want, but it's tough. Like I said, we built our car for long runs, so those short runs at the end kind of killed us. I mean, I'm sure there's an argument for being happy that we came in second because it could have been a lot worse having not the quickest car over one lap, and I'm the only guy not on new tires there.
Before you got into the last lap, being on the old tires, at what point do you think you were probably the closest to losing the lead where you got the white flag?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Oh, I mean, a bunch of times. Basically since that first caution that brought Ed up, he was charging hard all night and we knew that was going to be a tough race, and then Helio was — he came in for tires earlier, on one of the earlier stops, and then Graham and TK came in. So there was a lot of times.
Like I said, we were really strong on long runs, and earlier in the race Hunter-Reay kind of had our number for a while there and we kind of got back on long runs. I was kind of prepared after that first caution to maybe lose a spot or two and try and race our way back up as the laps wound down and the tires wore down, but I never got that opportunity; everybody kept running into each other.
Earlier on in the race, I think it was lap 127, you retook the lead from Castroneves going into 1. How close did you get to him when you made that move?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Yeah, pretty close.
I talked to him outside; he didn't know you were coming. His spotter said 5 back, and he thought he was referring to a lap car. He had no idea you were coming up on him.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I think what he meant was the No. 5 is on your back. Yeah, it was close. I was kind of shocked that he did that so early in the race, but if he didn't know I was coming, that kind of explains it. But that's racing. That's why the guy up in the spotter's stand has got to be someone you trust and someone you've got good communication with because that could have ended really poorly for both of us.
You didn't pit toward the end there I don't think. I think the team set up but you didn't come in, but Tony came in around lap 236 under the yellow, yet he came back out like third behind Graham. I'm trying to figure out why he didn't lose a little more time.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Well, it's my fault, because I lapped everybody up to fifth place before those cautions started flying, so when you've got that many new cars on the lead lap, that's how many positions you lose when you pit. So if you're pitting from third, there's only five cars on the lead lap, you only lose two spots. Because we got down to under 15 laps, on ovals with 15 laps to go, they run all the lap cars through pit lane and cycle them to the back of the field. Had that not been the case, he'd have come out mired in a bunch of traffic. Still in the top five and on the lead lap but with quite a few more cars to get through.
It's just the way the rule is written, and it's done to put on a good show for the fans, and I support the rule, but that's kind of the rule that bit us today. If I had just gone a bit slower and only lapped up to like 15th, it would have been a way harder call for him.
An Interview with Tony Kanaan
THE MODERATOR: Now joined by our third-place finisher from tonight, Tony Kanaan, driver of the No. 10 NTT DATA Chevrolet. I'm still trying to catch my breath, Tony. What about you?
TONY KANAAN: I'm okay. It was fun.
THE MODERATOR: Tell us about your night.
TONY KANAAN: It took some old-school Texas right there. It was a good night. We started way in the back and we had to make up positions right away, so we did. I think with IndyCar not changing the rules, having a day race, we had a ton of downforce in the car, all of us, and then doing the race, too, at night, it made the field a lot closer, as you could see. I had to dig into my hard drive and remember how to do pack racing again, and it worked out pretty well.
Big props to the guys in front, Simon, Hinch, Graham. We gave each other room, and that's why we all finished the way we did, so it's always a pleasure to race like that.
I feel bad for the people that didn't come back to watch because it was a hell of a show. A great day, right? We had some of the cops here. We know what happened here in Texas, and I felt very touched by the two gentlemen that actually showed up at the drivers' meeting, the two cops that actually got shot from that day, and I know that they got in for free, some of the people, so I think it was a pretty good show for them, and I'm happy for that. It was a good day.
THE MODERATOR: Take us through those last 10, 15, 20 laps, a lot of side-by-side racing, a lot of action. What were you trying to do?
TONY KANAAN: I was trying to win the race. But when we came in and took tires with seven to go, nine to go or something like that, I knew it was going to be tight. With three to go, I was — it's exactly where I wanted it to be on the inside, Hinch in the middle and Graham on the outside. If that was the case until the last lap, I think I had a shot, but I think Graham figured out that if he put himself behind Hinch he was going to push Hinch forward a little bit because that's what happened, and with that, it would be a two-man show between themselves, and I'm sad that Graham figured that out and we ended up finishing third, but he did a good job.
Q. Tony, after the practice session you only had seven to ten minutes. How did you guys feel during the daytime in the heat and then having to race at night under the lights?
TONY KANAAN: Those ten minutes became seven because what happened in the first session, when Sato had his accident. The first group only got seven minutes so it was even less than that. I didn't try to read too much into it. It was 94 degrees at that time, and we knew it was going to be 84 degrees ambient when we started our race, and the asphalt, which is the biggest factor for us, would be a lot cooler. I tried not to overreact, and I knew I had a decent car. I knew I was going to have to kind of work towards — with my tools, the bar, the weight jacker and the front wing, so I really tried not to judge anything by that session.
With the rules that you couldn't change the downforce, I knew I was going to have plenty for tonight because being a day race, race one being a day race, we added a lot of downforce, and by the rules we couldn't take it off.
Q. I saw you guys bumping into each other and hitting tires, rubbing against one another. I'm not used to seeing that in IndyCar.
TONY KANAAN: Me neither.
Q. How intense was that out there?
TONY KANAAN: It was really intense. Somebody hit Graham, Graham hit me, and thank God we managed to stay on the track. But yeah, I'm not used to that. I think it was just the nature of the product that we created for this race. We kind of went away from a pack race a long time ago, and we kind of migrated back just because it was a very different circumstances today, right; we couldn't race here 72 days ago, and we came back and we decided it to be a night race, and with not changing the rules because it was a continuation of a race, it created that pack, otherwise probably you wouldn't have seen some stock car action, in a good way.
Q. When you're in corners 3 and 4 and there's a spark shower in front of you, are you zipping through that spark shower so fast that it's not even an effect?
TONY KANAAN: Yeah, I mean, everybody was sparking because of the skid, and yeah, it happened so fast. You kind of get used to the first time it happens on the first lap. You kind of get it a little bit, but after that it does it every lap.