Rookie Rahal's day ends shortly after it started with mistake in Turn 4

Updated: May 25, 2008

AP Photo/Chuck Robinson

Safety crew members check on Graham Rahal after his car hit the wall coming out of the fourth turn during the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Graham Rahal figures to have a long career at Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- plenty of time to hopefully make better memories than this.

The 19-year-old Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing rookie and son of 1986 500 winner Bobby Rahal finished last Sunday, crashing out on Lap 37 at the exit of Turn 4. He was unhurt.

Rahal exited the turn too high to avoid the slowing car of Alex Lloyd of Rahal Letterman Racing with Chip Ganassi. Lloyd had brushed the wall moments before and was heading for the pits.

"I saw Lloyd, I don't know what he did, he was really slow," Rahal said. "I was trying to be patient there because [rookie Mario] Moraes kept coming down on me. So I finally got the opportunity to get by those few guys, and I thought our car was pretty good.

"Lloyd for some reason wouldn't stay right on the bottom and when he came up just a couple feet, I reacted slightly and just got into the marbles and that was it."

Rahal won the second race of the IndyCar Series season on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., becoming the youngest winner of a major open-wheel race, and was a popular choice to finish as the month's top rookie. He qualified 13th, second-best among the 11-man rookie class and the highest of the former Champ Car contingent.

His qualifying process wasn't without incident, however; on Pole Day he openly criticized his NHLR team for not having tires on hand for a last-minute shot at the top 11. He later apologized.

Rahal's teammate, fellow rookie Justin Wilson, qualified 16th but also failed to finish the race after crashing on Lap 132 in the south short chute.

"I was just running in the pack and just trying to experiment with a few different lines, trying to get a run on people because you'd often come down in the corner and wash out on the exit, and you'd have to lift off and you can't pass anyone," Wilson said. "So I was experimenting and learning, and I thought everything was fine. But as you start to come out of the corner, I felt the back lighten up, so I was out of the throttle, and it just slowly came around. And next thing I know, I'm going backward."

Bobby Rahal, for the record, also failed to finish his first Indy 500. In 1982 he retired after 174 laps with an engine failure.

Hunter-Reay takes rookie honors

As it turned out, Ryan Hunter-Reay didn't drive his best car in the Indianapolis 500. The No. 17 Dallara-Honda that started Sunday's race was a backup, put into service two weeks ago after the second-year Rahal Letterman Racing driver crashed the primary car during Pole Day qualifying.

But the backup was the best of 11 rookie rides, as Hunter-Reay deftly drove from a 20th starting spot to sixth in his first 500.

"This was a great finish for us," Hunter-Reay said. "This year, I think the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year battle meant a lot more than it has in a while because the field was so strong with so many former Champ Car drivers coming over."

Hunter-Reay, 27, won IndyCar Series rookie of the year honors last year after being hired in midseason and finishing in the top seven three times in six starts. He was classified as a rookie this year at Indianapolis, having joined RLR after last year's 500.

The rookie of the year battle Sunday went down to the wire, with Hunter-Reay passing Andretti Green Racing rookie Hideki Mutoh with six laps to go and making it stick.

"Hideki was blocking me and I can't tell you how angry I was," Hunter-Reay said. "But I was methodical and set him up, my spotters did a great job giving me information and we got the job done. There was no way I was going to finish this race with that kid in front of me."

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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Long month ends in short day for Fisher

Sarah Fisher

Fisher

From beginning to end, this month of May was agonizing for Sarah Fisher. It bottomed out Sunday with a Lap 106 crash that wasn't her fault.

The seven-time 500 starter and three-time IndyCar most popular driver started a race team in advance of Indy but fell behind financially when primary sponsors failed to deliver cash. Her well-publicized money struggles led to thousands of dollars donated from fans, a few bucks at a time, before big money finally arrived two days before the race from an online company.

Her race started with a hiccup as she failed to start upon the command to fire engines (a neutral safety switch was accidentally turned on), then ended with an untimely bang when a spinning Tony Kanaan came down in front of her in the north short chute. Fisher's No. 67 came to rest along the inside wall in Turn 4. She finished 30th.

Fisher was not hurt in the crash but was crushed by such a conclusion to a trying month. She rode to the infield care center in an ambulance with Kanaan, crying the entire way, according to Kanaan. "I feel so bad about it," Kanaan said. "It's just bad."

"It was just a terrible day," Fisher added. "The guys worked so hard this month and put together such a good race car. It was great on track; we just messed up the start, messed up the parade lap. It just wasn't our day."

Sarah Fisher Racing is scheduled to run again at Kentucky on Aug. 9, and then the season finale at Chicagoland.

Another fire for Foyt IV

A.J. Foyt IV

Foyt

A.J. Foyt IV finished 21st, 20 laps down after his car caught on fire after exiting the pits following service on Lap 39. Fuel on the side pod ignited, and though the safety crew in the pits quickly extinguished the fire, the car was sidelined for several laps while the team cleaned up the detritus.

"Obviously, it was terrible," Foyt said. "We had to get out of the car and get the car all sorted out, and it was just miserable. From there on, you're just out there riding around and trying to stay out of trouble, waiting to screw up. It was a terrible race, a miserable race. One of the worst of my life."

It was the second fiery incident in a week for the grandson of the four-time champion. He qualified his car early on Bump Day on May 18, then a couple of hours later in practice crashed after a fire. The fuel buckeye cover on the right side of his Dallara-Honda, not secured properly by a crew member, flew off as he exited the pit warm-up lane, then as he got up to speed on the backstretch, ethanol began streaming out of the car onto the right rear tire. The fuel caught fire, sending him into a spin and the outside wall.

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