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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rahal Back With NHLR At Long Beach?

The panic within the front office of the IZOD IndyCar Series can begin to subside now, as American Graham Rahal may finally have lined up a full-time ride for the rest of this year.

Multiple sources have reported that Rahal will return to Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, the only team he has ever driven for in IndyCar, beginning at Long Beach. He will first fulfill his obligations to Sarah Fisher Racing for the next two races, at St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park.

NHLR currently fields one car for Hideki Mutoh, down from two last year and a planned three for this season. Unfortunately, sponsorship for Rahal and Alex Lloyd fell through over the offseason, putting Lloyd in a car with another team and leaving Rahal's prospects totally up in the air.

One of the more widespread rumors was that Rahal Letterman Racing, the former Indianapolis 500 winning team owned by Rahal's father Bobby, would return to fund Graham out of pocket. Other top owners were scrambling to assemble sponsorship packages to at least field the young driver at Indianapolis.

Originally, it appeared that Rahal would only drive these next two races, as team owner/driver Sarah Fisher decided to remove herself from the car on road courses after disappointing preseason test results. Rahal tested sports cars at Sebring recently for Corvette Racing, and was rumored to meet with NASCAR representatives, but has said all along that open-wheel racing is his home and where he wants to continue his career.

Rahal will likely return to the No. 02 Dallara-Honda that he piloted last year, though it is unclear whether or not the sponsor will again be McDonald's. NHLR left the number open in case they could secure sponsorship for Rahal, putting Mutoh in their second car, the No. 06. Mutoh came to the team with Formula Dream and Panasonic backing, as has followed him for the past two years.

Last season, Rahal finished eighth in points with two poles, five top five finishes, and nine top-10s. His best finish was third, which occurred twice, at Motegi and Richmond. His poles came at St. Petersburg and Kansas.

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