Sunday, May 17, 2009

Indy 500 Bump Day: Madness To The End

It was a bitter end for former 500 winner Buddy Lazier, who was stuck in the 218 range all weekend and could never get a sniff of the proper speed to make the race. The worst was saved for Alex Tagliani, however, as he was bumped out after the 6 o'clock gun by .04 seconds in a true banzai run by Ryan Hunter Reay, who eked out the narrowest of margins after struggling mightily to find speed since the track opened.

John Andretti was probably the happiest driver at IMS today as he found over a mile an hour more than he needed with just 15 minutes left in Bump Day, after spending the whole day like a yo yo, in and out of the field as driver after driver pulled qualified cars to improve their times, putting John back in the field, then out, then in. It seemed like it happened at least six times today! And they must have worked their tails off all day, going in and out of the garage area and back out to try something new, until they found that Indy magic in the waning minutes of the day. Not only that, he did it on his third and final attempt, running a conservative line, whereas others were using lots of racetrack and still couldn't find the speed the 43 car finally did. It was great to see, and I'm especially happy for John to be back at Indy where he belongs - and with the King Richard Petty along for the ride as car owner no less.

And good thing Conquest Racing hired Bruno Junqueira! He qualified easily at over 221 with only 15 laps in the team car to Tagliani. Very impressive. Equally impressive were Nelson Phillipe and Milka Duno as they made me eat my words, running faster than they had all month as the track was roughly 2 mph faster today in sunny but cool conditions. Well done by those two, and Milka was jumping around like a teenage cheerleader after her qualifying run early in the afternoon.

Tomas Scheckter went out late for an insurance run to improve his position and also went nearly two mph faster than he had on Saturday. Lots of rubber must have been laid down today, as numerous teams put their race setups on and ran a ton of laps throughout the day, as qualifying attempts were made, qualified cars were pulled and requalified, and then the scenario would repeat itself too many times to count. At one point I couldn't have told you who was on the bubble and who was still in the race.

So now the field is truly set, and the slowest speed of a tad over 220.5 is only about 4 mph slower than the pole speed, so the 500 should be highly competitive with the teams apparently so equal. That sounds right but when you see the top teams running race setup laps between 219 and 223 in packs, you just know that the top half of the grid will likely run circles around the tailenders by the middle of the race. Handling traffic and staying out of other people's troubles will be key to winning, just like always, as now the Speedway goes silent for the Indycars until Carb Day later this week. The Indy Lights teams will practice and qualify for Friday's Freedom 100 Thursday but the big cars won't be seen again until Friday.

Then comes race day, just seven days from now. Get out and get a ticket. I'll be in Turn 1! See you there.

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