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Indy 500 Qualifying
May 23, 2010 - Al Stephenson
I spent nearly the entire day yesterday watching Indy 500 qualifying on Versus. It didn't seem like all day to me, but when my wife told my daughter at supper that she had heard nothing but the whine of race cars all day - well, I guess it was a long time.
The format for qualifying was changed this year and it promised to be much more interesting than past years. From 11:00 to 4:00 drivers had up to 3 chances to put a speed on the board. The top 24 qualifiers at the end of that segment would be guaranteed a spot in next Sunday's race. The top 9 however would go to a shootout that would take place fro 4:30 to 6:00.
Speeds would be erased at that point and any of the nine would have a chance for the pole. The first segment was not a complete waste as pit stalls would be assigned based on those segment speeds.
Alex Tagliani had the top speed after every driver had one qualifying attempt. Helio Castroneves was second. He had nothing to gain by going out again other than a slightly better pit stall, but out he went. By doing so, his first time was taken off the board and he risked running slower or even wrecking his race car. The Roger Penske racer risked it anyway and went to the shootout sitting in pole position one.
The next hour and a half could have been really exciting. It wasn't thanks to Castroneves as he went out first and posted a four lap average near 228, a speed that had not been reached in practice all month. Dario Franchitti gave Chip Ganassi Racing the second best time on his first attempt and hoped to do better later in the segment. That is when the only interesting thing took place.
With less than ten minutes to go in the segment, Castroneves took to the track with Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon and Franchitti the next two cars in line. Since his first time would count even if this attempt was slower, Ganassi complained to track steward Brian Barnhart that this maneuver by Roger Penske was - well, BS. You could actually read his lips twice!
There was a reason for Castroneves to go out again. By doing so he would get an extra set of Firestone tires. Ganassi thought differently. He felt the Penske bunch was trying to keep Franchitti from having one last attempt to get the pole and to be honest he was the only one that had much of a chance to wrestle it away from Helio.
Barnhart had told the teams that if the driver in the top position went out again late in qualifying with the express purpose to keep a competitor from having another shot, he would bring him in before the attempt was complete.
He did exactly that as Castroneves was given the yellow flag instead of the white flag after three laps. This enabled Dixon a chance to go once more and Franchitti took to the track with 30 seconds left.
That attempt was aborted when it became clear he could not match the speed of Castroneves.
The view from my seat suggests that this may be an exciting year at Indy. Not only do we have the two top teams carrying a little grudge, but we have at least three women drivers in the field.
Danica Patrick made the show though she struggled and ended up 23rd best on this day. There is a chance that two more women will qualify today and I think that would be just dandy.
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