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 firstname.lastname@example.org.