Understanding girlfriend joins Rahal for Houston GP

HOUSTON, Texas -- If he had the normal life of an 18-year-old high school senior, Graham Rahal would be attending his high school prom Saturday night in New Albany, Ohio.

But Rahal has work to do as a Champ Car rookie competing this weekend in the Grand Prix of Houston. His girlfriend, Lauren, also is skipping the prom.

"I'm not disappointed," Rahal said about missing his prom. "But my girlfriend got a little upset. so I had to bring her down here. Nobody wants to go to the prom by themselves."

So does Graham have any special dinner plans in Houston Saturday to celebrate prom night with his girlfriend?

"Nothing," he said. "I have to get to bed early. She understands. She's been around the races a lot and she knows how to keep herself busy. But my life's a lot easier when she's here."

Rahal, who was third in qualifying on Friday, said his team owners -- Paul Newman, Carl Haas and Mike Lanigan -- understand why Graham wanted Lauren here this weekend.

"Sometimes you have to be careful with team owners on things like that," Rahal said. "They can be sensitive about those things. My dad would be one of those team owners."

Bobby Rahal, Graham's father, co-owns a two-car IndyCar Series team with David Letterman.

Graham could have opted to race in the Indy 500 this year for the first time (a race his father won in 1986) but decided against it.

"I've thought about it," Rahal said. "In fact, I thought about it last night. But you have to go with a team that can win, and right now the only two teams that are going to win are Penske and Ganassi. Unless you can convince them to run a third car, you really don't have a chance."

That statement can't make Dad too happy.

"He knows it," Graham said. "Everybody knows it. You can see it. For me, it's not worth going there and looking bad. And it's more important for me to focus on this series for this year. But I will be at Indy for the race. Some of my personal sponsors work with Dad's team."

Bourdais fastest on Friday
Sebastien Bourdais, who won the inaugural Grand Prix of Houston last year, topped Friday's qualifying session, turning a lap at 103.789 mph. Will Power was second on the speed chart at 102.883 mph.

Power won the season-opening event at Las Vegas and Bourdais won last weekend at Long Beach.

The final qualifying session at Houston is Saturday afternoon.

Figge sidelined
Champ Car driver Alex Figge will not compete this weekend because of lingering back pain from an accident last weekend on the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

"I experienced a huge amount of discomfort [Friday] morning in practice, so I'm getting an MRI," Figge said. "I want to focus on recovery so I can log some miles in May."

Figge, a Denver resident who drives for Pacific Coast Motorsports, finished eighth at Las Vegas and 16th at Long Beach. The team hasn't decided if someone else will drive the car this weekend.

Champ Car veteran Paul Tracy will miss his second consecutive race after suffering a compression fracture in his back from an accident at Long Beach.

Oriol Servia is driving in place of Tracy for Forsythe Championship Racing. Servia finished second at Long Beach.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at