Rahal races to victory in first leg of Detroit Grand Prix

DETROIT -- A day after his wife's dragster exploded in a ball of fire in an NHRA event, IndyCar driver Graham Rahal delivered a hot performance of a different kind.

Rahal dominated the first leg of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader Saturday, winning the Verizon IndyCar Series' 70-lap race from the pole. His margin of victory was 6.14 seconds, massive by this series' standards.

"We've seen (Will) Power do this, but this just doesn't happen in this series," Rahal said. "That's what makes it special."

Rahal became the seventh winner in as many IndyCar races this season, following Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Power and Takuma Sato. The parity could continue Sunday when the season's only two-race event runs its second half at 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC).

Rahal's excitement was tempered by the fact his wife, drag racer Courtney Force, escaped without injury in a qualifying run Friday in Epping, N.H. Soon after leaving the starting line, her car exploded after a fuel line burst.

Rahal called it "nerve-wracking."

"Contrary to what people think, it's not cool," he said. "I've seen those cars up close, and there's a lot to be nervous about."

Rahal went on to say dragsters, with all their nitro power, are like "a bomb waiting to go off."

"When it's a guy you're like, 'OK, he'll be fine,'" he said. "When it's her, I feel a little different."

Rahal's victory was the fifth of his career and the fourth in the past two-plus seasons. He became the first U.S.-born driver to win an IndyCar race in Detroit since Michael Andretti in 1996.

Indianapolis 500 pole winner Scott Dixon finished second just six days after his 350-foot flight through the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's air. The car split in half on impact with the inside wall and somehow the four-time series champion escaped with only a small foot fracture.

Dixon took the series lead by two points over Helio Castroneves, who finished seventh.

Hinchcliffe finished third, completing a Honda sweep of the top three finishing positions. Hinchcliffe recovered from a spin on the opening lap. Newgarden (Chevrolet) and Alexander Rossi (Honda) rounded out the top five.

Sato, won last week's 500, finished eighth. Mexican driver Esteban Gutierrez finished 19th in his first IndyCar race. Gutierrez is replacing Bourdais, who crashed in Indy qualifying and suffered pelvic fractures and a broken hip.

Saturday's only true incident occurred after the first round of pit stops. As Conor Daly's car slowed without power on the backstretch, Charlie Kimball spun trying to avoid him. Kimball's car suffered only minimal damage.

NOTES: Helio Castroneves posted the fastest time in Saturday morning's qualifying session, but he didn't win the pole because he was penalized for not reducing his speed during a local caution area. Because his fastest lap was taken away, Castroneves was forced to settle for the second starting position. ... Graham Rahal's pole was his first since 2009, a span of 134 races. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing earned its first No. 1 starting position since 2007. ... Sunday's IndyCar schedule will follow a similar path here at the Belle Isle circuit. Morning qualifying (10:45 a.m.) will set the field for the 70-lap race.