BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Graham Rahal loves what sees at the top of the IndyCar series standings so far this season.
Three twentysomething Americans — Alexander Rossi , Josef Newgarden and Rahal — are lined up neatly at the top heading into Sunday’s race at Barber Motorsports Park. It’s only three races into the season but the success of the American millennials also builds on Newgarden’s series title last year.
“I think for the sport, it’s great,” the 29-year-old Rahal said. “You’ve got three Americans at the top but also three guys that are all under 30 so there’s a lot of promise, a lot of pride that everybody should take in that. Obviously it’s early in the year, but still for IndyCar, I think it shows that the future is very bright. There’s a lot for fans to be excited about.”
Maybe more than the series has had in years when it comes to American drivers, who don’t have the deep feeder system of NASCAR for developing young drivers. The 27-year-old Newgarden’s championship was only the third by an American IndyCar driver in 11 years, following Ryan Hunter-Reay (2012) and Sam Hornish Jr. (2006).
Rossi, a 26-year-old Californian, is coming off a win at Long Beach and leading the points race. Newgarden is second, followed by Rahal.
It’s a long way from the days when American open-wheel racers like A.J. Foyt reigned over the sport, but it’s a nice step for American drivers in a series that’s been dominated in recent years by international stars like four-time series champion Dario Franchitti (Scotland) and three-time champ Scott Dixon (New Zealand) — not to mention Newgarden’s fellow Team Penske drivers Will Power (Australia) and Helio Castroneves (Brazil), who is now running part-time in IndyCar .
“It’s great. I think the fans love it,” said Newgarden, the defending race winner in Alabama. “It’s good for the series to have strong Americans doing a good job against the best from around the world. That’s important. You want to have the top American talent in the series succeeding, and I think you’re getting that right now.”
Rossi, Newgarden and Rahal could be just getting started.
At 26, Newgarden was the youngest champion since Hornish in 2002. This year, like Rossi, the Tennessean has finished in the top 10 in all three races, including a win in Phoenix .
Rookie Zach Veach, Rossi’s 23-year-old Andretti Autosport teammate and another American, finished a career-best fourth at Long Beach.
Seven of the 23 drivers at Barber are American, and others have taken note of the resurgence.
“There’s definitely a lot of good American drivers now capable of winning championships and races, which is what the series needs,” Power said.
Rahal grew up in racing and is the youngest driver to win an IndyCar race. His father and part owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Bobby Rahal, won the 1986 Indianapolis 500. The younger Rahal doesn’t hesitate when asked if one of his goals has been to help get American drivers back to the top.
“Without a doubt,” Rahal said. “I think that everybody wants Americans to do well. For me, it’s always been my focus to lead that charge and obviously to win a championship. We haven’t been able to do that but I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to make that happen in very short order.”