Graham Rahal, close at TMS last year, knows how close IndyCar racing is this year

Driving for his father, Graham Rahal naturally learns a lot of things about racing in the old days.

For one thing, it was easier to win if you had a good car.

He must think to himself, “Tell me about it.”

“We talked about it last weekend — the racing now is totally different,” Graham said Wednesday as he got ready to come to Fort Worth for the Firestone 550 on Saturday night. “It’s far more competitive. Used to be, you had good teams and bad teams, and the range was so big. Nowadays, the difference between a good team and a bad team is nothing. There are no bad teams.”

Which, for the young Rahal in his first year with his father Bobby’s IndyCar Series team, has meant even if he gets a good car, he isn’t assured of a good finish.

He picked up a podium finish in the third race of the season, but , he had finishes of 21st, 22nd and 25th, before placing ninth in each of the Detroit races last weekend.

It is not the type of start observers predicted for the father-son partnership. Graham joined Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing this year after two years with Chip Ganassi Racing and two years with Newman-Haas-Lanigan.

“With Graham, I’m surprised he’s not running better,” ABC race analyst Scott Goodyear said before the Detroit races. “I think if you ask him, he would say that he’s disappointed and probably shocked that they’re not running better. He wasn’t very happy the last couple of years, and the springtime before the first race, he did speak in interviews about how this was going to be much better.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan has a long history, but not with Graham. He ran the Indy 500 for his father three years ago, but that’s it. Yes, it’s his family’s team, but Graham said he is still a newcomer.

“The integration hasn’t been an issue, whatsoever. What’s different is we’re still a new team,” he said. “People see the name and think we’ve been around a long time. But we’re developing. Our development program has been a big topic of discussion recently.”

Maybe last year has been, too.

Rahal was on his way to winning at TMS last June when, with two laps to go, he made contact with the wall and lost the lead to upset winner Justin Wilson.

It would have been only his second career win, and who knows where his season with Ganassi might have gone from there.

“I still think about it occasionally,” Rahal said. “I want to win, and it would have been so nice to get my second that night. But it is what it is. I’ve moved on.”

Bobby Rahal’s experience has likely helped Graham move on from last year. Their relationship is one of the reasons they wanted to work together, even with potential pitfalls.

“I never drove for my father, but I would have said I would have dreaded driving for my father because it would be difficult to differentiate business from personal things,” former racer Eddie Cheever said. “But seeing him raised with his dad, I think it’s great. His dad is definitely a thinker driver, and if he can pass that over to his son, it will be a great team.”

Graham said he and his father are very much alike, although father does keep the pressure on.

“Is he tough on me? Sure. He can be,” Graham said. “He’s a dad. That’s the way dads are. But he and I get along really, really well. In a general scheme of things, my friends, my family, everybody will tell you my dad and I are the same person — we act the same, we talk the same, we react the same to a lot of things. I think that’s kind of made the whole process of what we’re doing here a lot easier.

“There have not been a lot of times when he and I were not on the same page.”

That’s the page they’ll try to turn Saturday night.

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