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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ex-Newman/Haas/Lanigan Drivers Land on Their Feet

Graham Rahal and Alex Lloyd, the two drivers who ran the final race of last season for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing and were supposed to return this year, have both secured rides for this year's IZOD IndyCar Series season, although their new team situations are completely different.

Lloyd, the 2007 Firestone Indy Lights champion and part-time IndyCar driver for the past two seasons, will step into a fully-sponsored ride for Dale Coyne Racing. He will drive the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dallara-Honda for the full season.

Rahal will miss the season-opening race in Brazil, however he will drive the next two races for Sarah Fisher Racing in the No. 67 Dollar General Dallara-Honda that Fisher herself normally drives. Originally, St. Petersburg and Barber were on Fisher's schedule, but owing to Rahal's 2008 win at the former track and her relative lack of speed testing at the latter, the decision was made to give one of the sport's best American drivers the ride.

Rahal is still looking for a ride for the rest of the season. There is the possibility of driving for Rahal Letterman Racing, his father's ex-IndyCar and current sports car team, if they can secure a sponsor.

Both drivers were supposed to return to N/H/L for this year alongside Hideki Mutoh, who would drive a third car. However, both Lloyd's backing from Her Energy Drink and Rahal's McDonald's backing fell through, leaving N/H/L with only one car for Mutoh, who brings his own sponsorship to the team. Since then, both have faced tumultuous and uncertain offseasons, with these deals coming together at the last minute.

This lack of rides for two of the top young talents in the sport suggests the long way that the once-mighty team has fallen. N/H/L used to employ former Formula 1 champions and some of the most talented drivers the sport had ever known, but in recent years has slipped since the loss of its Texaco/Havoline and Kmart sponsorship deals. McDonald's is the latest big backer to go, although their deal was supposedly more of a kickback as a result of owner Paul Newman's food production company, Newman's Own, supplying the golden arches with coffee.

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