INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Graham Rahal sat on the sidepod of his No. 15 car, head in hands, sobbing as his children tried to steal a hug Sunday.
There was no consoling Rahal this time.
Thirty-eight minutes after bumping Jack Harvey off the Indianapolis 500 starting grid, Harvey returned the favor by edging his teammate and the team owner’s son out of next Sunday’s race on the last lap of last-chance qualifying by a miniscule .007 mph.
“I think everybody’s tried exceptionally hard over the last couple of days, we came up short. There’s not much else to say,” Rahal lamented after posting a four-lap average of 229.159. “This place, you’ve got to earn it. It’s not handed out, it’s not a given, it’s not a guarantee.”
He didn’t even get a second chance after spending more than a half-hour waiting inside the cockpit on a sun-drenched pit lane with an air hose and umbrella keeping him cool. Instead, Rahal got a first-hand view of crew members making adjustments to the No. 30 in the pit box directly in front of his just before time expired.
Everyone at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team understood this was a distinct possibility given the week they’d had on the 2.5-mile oval.
The team’s four cars routinely finished near the bottom of the daily speed charts and none of the three full-time IndyCar drivers qualified in the top 30 Saturday. Only Katherine Legge made the field, taking the final spot in the first round of qualifications.
Four drivers — rookie Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing, Rahal, Harvey and their teammate Christian Lundgaard — returned Sunday for the final three spots in next week’s race.
And all this after the team thought it had some momentum thanks to two top-10 finishes and Lundgaard’s pole-winning run for last week’s Indianapolis Grand Prix.
How bad did things get for Rahal’s team?
“We’re going as fast as we did in 2020,” Bobby Rahal said before the second day of qualifications, which included a historic pole-winning run by Alex Palou.
Lundgaard and Robb left nothing to chance with quick enough times on the first two runs to call it a day. Harvey and Rahal then played strategic chess with Rahal’s nervous father, Bobby, caught in the middle as he thought back to the day 30 years earlier when he was bumped from the 500 field.
It was even tougher seeing his son endure the emotional wave.
“This is my team, Mike’s team — Mike’s and Dave’s — so I have to be as neutral as I can. That can be tough at times,” the 1986 Indy winner said. “For Jack, I’m really happy for him. I think he needed this, and for Graham, it’s a real shame but we’ll be back.”
The elder Rahal’s encouragement were little consolation for his devastated 34-year-old son.
Graham Rahal is in a contract year and has said all week he doesn’t want to continue driving for his father if the cars aren’t capable of winning. He even raised the possibility of retiring.
Harvey also is fighting to keep his job at RLL while attempting to salvage his IndyCar career and sounded more relieved than joyous to claim the starting spot on the outside of Row 11.
“Today’s about as humbling a moment as I’ve had at a racetrack and I don’t want to do this dance again,” he said. “It’s a great group (at RLL) and I’m excited to be in the race.”
Harvey spent most of the one-hour qualifying session on edge, too. He needed three qualifying attempts, a quick wing change for his final attempt and a gutsy final lap that one of Rahal’s crew members couldn’t watch and that Rahal was tracking on an iPad.
When the final average of 229.166 appeared, Rahal climbed out of his car, shook the hand of one crew member and hugged another before the tears started flowing.
Lundgaard, who will start 31st next Sunday, was one several drivers who walked down to pit lane to greet Rahal.
“Right now, I just feel gutted for Graham,” Lundgaard said. “I seemed to have a little more pace than they did. I wasn’t too worried about making the field, but we wanted all three of them in and now one of them is out, and it’s not what we wanted.”
It’s not clear if Bobby Rahal will try to buy out another driver in the field to ensure that his son and sponsors race in next week’s “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” — though it appears Graham Rahal is willing to live with the result.
“This doesn’t just happen,” he said. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re doing the right things and fixing the inherent speed issue with these cars. It’s hard to imagine that it’s us in this position, but I could have told you at the test in April we were in trouble and when you get to the test and you feel that way, its too late and it just came to a head here.”