LEXINGTON, Ohio -- O-H-I-O.
Graham Rahal's surge in the second half of the Verizon IndyCar Series season continued with an emphatic home victory in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
Rahal, who started 13th in the 90-lap race in the No. 15 Steak 'n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, corralled his second victory of the season and third of his Indy car career. The New Albany, Ohio, native closed to nine points of Verizon IndyCar Series championship front-runner Juan Pablo Montoya with two races left in the season.
Since earning his first victory of the season June 27 at Auto Club Speedway -- his first win since March 2008 -- Rahal has placed third, fourth and first to challenge for his first series title.
Rahal’s father, Bob, a team co-owner, won the Indy car races at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 1985 and ’86.
“This track has been special for the Rahal family going back to the days of Jim Trueman,” said Graham Rahal, who wore an Ohio State University football-themed helmet. “Jim was the man who founded this place, got this place going. He was also the one who got my dad started in racing.
“I grew up at this place, running around when my dad was racing. It’s come full circle.”
Rahal is the eighth different winner in nine road/street course races this season. He picked up the lead for good on Lap 67 when the lead pack, including race leader Montoya, pitted under caution for their final fuel/tire service.
Rahal then fended off Justin Wilson, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon on a Lap 84 restart on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course following a full-course caution and went on to win by 3.4 seconds.
"I was just able to just absolutely gap anyone I needed to at the end," Rahal said. "I didn’t have any push-to-passes left on that last restart so I was pretty nervous Wilson would get me.”
Wilson, who started 14th in the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda, placed a season-high second. Pagenaud also was a big mover in the race, advancing 12 positions relative to his starting spot in the No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet to finish a season-best third. Scott Dixon, a five-time winner at Mid-Ohio, started from the pole and finished fourth in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. He is 26 points behind Rahal in the title chase.
Montoya, who started 10th in the No. 2 Hawk Performance Team Penske Chevrolet and led 21 laps in the middle of the race -- including the 19 laps preceding his Lap 67 pit stop -- finished 12th.
Up next on the calendar is the ABC Supply 500 on Aug. 23 at Pocono Raceway. The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Aug. 30 carries double points (100 forirst place, 80 for second, etc., in addition to bonus points for earning the Verizon P1 Award (1 point), leading a lap (1 point) and leading the most race laps (2 points).
“Everyone on the Hawk Performance Chevy did an amazing job," said Montoya, who has topped the standings since winning the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. "We did everything we were supposed to do today and the race was playing out perfectly for us. Unfortunately, we got a caution with about 25 laps to go that we didn’t need. It worked out for some and didn’t work out for others. But we had a great car and we still have the points lead. Ready for Pocono where we won last year.”