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IndyCar Iowa Race 1

Why IndyCar drivers need to “play ball” on helping Iowa’s high lane

Graham Rahal believes the second lane at repaved Iowa Speedway can come in and prevent dreaded single-file racing, but only if drivers help the show

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

Veteran IndyCar racer Graham Rahal believes this weekend’s doubleheader at Iowa Speedway can be “a hell of a show”, but only if drivers can work together to build up the second groove of the repaved short oval.

Prior to the recent hosting of its first-ever NASCAR Cup Series event, the 0.875-mile oval underwent a repave on the inside portion of each of the four turns that extends just wide enough to fit two Indy cars side-by-side.

Additionally, this weekend also marks the first oval race with IndyCar’s hybrid unit, which creates an additional 60 horsepower.

A test last month, which was led by Andretti Global’s Colton Herta, saw times by several drivers that were quicker than the qualifying lap record of 186.809mph set by Helio Castroneves in 2014.

Considering all of the variables, along with Rahal confirming that IndyCar is reducing the downforce levels following the test, the concern in the paddock is how this weekend could turn into a run of single-file races.

“Yeah, your assessment is accurate, but it's only accurate if the drivers don't play ball,” said Rahal, who has one podium, four top-five finishes and 11 top-10s in 18 starts at Iowa.

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

The Ohio native and driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda stressed the intention comes with how committed drivers are to the special high line session during the weekend’s first practice session on Friday.

“What I mean play ball is we've got high line practice Friday first 30 minutes of practice, and if the guys decide they're going to do high line practice and run low or do whatever kind of gamesmanship they all played the last couple times we've done this, then we're not doing what's in the best interest of the sport,” Rahal said.

“But I don't see that happening. I think everybody knows that the second lane can come in very quickly. If you had gone to the Iowa test and we started the morning session, it was gray. Even though NASCAR had just been there. There was very little rubber down.

“By the middle of the afternoon, it was black. The bottom lane had gripped up a lot and applied a lot of rubber. So what that tells me is we do that to the second lane and the same thing is going to happen.

“It is in the best interest of the drivers, it's in the best interest of the teams, it's in the best interest of the series, for HyVee (race weekend title sponsor) and for the race and for the fans to get the second lane to come in.

“And I think if we do that effectively on Friday, you immediately follow with an hour and a half practice in which everybody is going to want to run up there because you really don't have – while qualifying is critical, you don't have a lot of time to focus on that versus the race. You've got to get into your race running.”

Jack Harvey, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Jack Harvey, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Photo by: Josh Tons / Motorsport Images

Rahal remains optimistic and part of that reasoning comes from how the NASCAR Cup Series ended up with an action-packed race of numerous side-by-side battles that also featured 17 lead changes, a far cry from how the series tested.

“I think that the second lane will come in, and it will be fine,” Rahal said. “I remember Kyle Larson, his first test at Iowa, he texted me right away and said it was a one-trick pony, it was a one lane racetrack. And then you watch the Iowa NASCAR race, and that wasn't the case.

“Same thing, though. They all worked together. They applied that second – of course they've got that PJ1 (traction compound) or whatever they use. We do not have any grip applicator like that with Firestone, but the reality is it can come in.

“So I'm going to be Mr. Positive here, and I'm going to say that we're going to get that in and put on a hell of a show, like we typically do at Iowa.”

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