Bruce Martin
Thursday March 27th, 2008

HOMESTEAD, Florida -- Graham Rahal's much-anticipated IndyCar Series debut has been sidelined for another week after his team decided he would not participate in Saturday night's season-opener, the Gainsco Auto Insurance Indy 300.

Rahal crashed the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing entry during a test at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Tuesday, which was the final day of a day of a two-day test for teams that are joining IndyCar from Champ Car.

With a shortage of parts available in the IndyCar Series after it absorbed Champ Car last month, and with only one car per driver, the team decided to have the 19-year-old Rahal sit out the oval track race after it became clear key parts would not be available in time for Friday's practice.

The team is now focused on rebuilding the crashed car for a test at Sebring International Raceway on April 1 and the Honda Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, April 4-6.

"It's disappointing that we're not going to be racing in the season-opener, and I feel bad about it," Rahal said. "It will be tough not to be out there, but at the same time we need to take it slowly and not rush putting the car back together.

"Even if we had everything available, there aren't enough hours before the first practice on Friday to get the car put back together. The guys have worked awfully hard to be in the position to run here and it's not the time to pull all-nighters."

Rahal's team is going to shift its emphasis for next weekend's street race at St. Petersburg, Fla., where Rahal, sporting a road racing background, feels he has at least a fighting chance of a decent finish compared to running an oval for the first time on Saturday night.

"I'm just going experience this weekend from a different perspective and pay attention to what is going on with Justin Wilson," Rahal said of his teammate. "I'll probably watch some of the race from the spotters stand to get another perspective.

"We'll have to start all over for the race in Kansas, which will now be my first oval race."

With so many new teams joining IndyCar after it absorbed Champ Car, parts availability is expected to be an issue through the 92nd Indianapolis 500 in May.

Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing has teamed up with Rahal Letterman Racing to help in the transition which allows team owner Bobby Rahal to work with his son by offering advice, guidance and technical advice.

"I don't think he did anything wrong," Bobby Rahal said of his son's crash. "Geez, he looked really strong. The car bottomed real heavily, and that happens to a lot of people. It's a shame because he needs time just pounding around, playing with the weight-jacker and things like that to see what it does. For all of these guys, qualifying and running practice is one thing; running the race is a different experience.

"As a group, they are definitely behind the eight-ball."

Rahal Letterman Racing has a backup car for its driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay, but the team owner addressed why that car is not available for his son.

"We only have two cars here and I don't think anybody is going to give up their spare until they know they absolutely don't need it and you won't know that until Friday night," Bobby Rahal said. "I would think most people's spare cars are set up for St. Pete.

"We weren't asked [by Newman/Haas/Lanigan to offer one of our spare cars]. I know our cars are the St. Pete setup and that would have taken some effort so it would have been a thrash. We've obviously tried to help Newman Haas overall as a team. We've lent them all kinds of things and we've been as much assistance as we could.

"The worst thing to have happen would have been to get this car fixed then to have something happen in the race. There is a test for them at Sebring on Monday. Then it would have started to snowball so at some point you have to have things calm down."

A 26-car field was expected to take the green flag for Saturday night's race but with Graham Rahal sitting this one out, it will be 25 cars when the race begins Saturday night at 8 p.m. EDT.

Practice begins Friday afternoon with qualifications to determine the starting lineup on Friday night.

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