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Sunday, May 18, 2008
Foyt's difficult month got better, then worse, on Sunday

By John Schwarb
Special to ESPN.com

AP Photo/Steve Weaver

A.J. Foyt IV slides through the third turn after the car made contact with the wall during practice on Sunday.

INDIANAPOLIS -- A.J. Foyt IV, driving the best car not yet in the field for the 92nd Indianapolis 500, made quick work in putting it in the show Sunday.

Not quite three hours later, the car was a ball of fire sailing toward the Turn 3 wall.

The Vision Racing driver will race in his fifth Indy 500 on May 25 (ABC, noon ET) after qualifying 31st, but this week the crew will be putting back together a Dallara-Honda crashed during practice after a freak mishap.

The fuel buckeye cover flew off the right side of the car at the exit of the warm-up lane on the backstretch, sending ethanol spewing out onto the right-rear tire and turning it into a fireball. That sent Foyt into a spin to the left and he hit the outside SAFER barrier with the left rear of the car.

Foyt sustained slight burns to the back of his neck and had some hairs singed, but his anger burned hotter from what was a preventable accident.

"The guy that put it on … you gotta bolt it on, tighten it up. He pretty much didn't do it after you roll through and get fuel before you go out to pit lane," Foyt said. "He just basically forgot to put it back on. He doesn't work for us no more."

The crash was a final point of frustration in what was a rough two weekends of qualifying for the 24-year-old Texan. On Pole Day, he spun between Turns 3 and 4 of his final warm-up lap, saving the No. 2 but ending any chance of posting a qualifying attempt. On May 11, like everyone else, he sat through the rain day.

Saturday, when the final 22 spots on the grid were claimed, Foyt still couldn't put his car in after two failed attempts. On his first attempt, he brushed the wall, averting disaster but ending the try. A second attempt ended early with gearbox problems.

Fortunately, the qualifying woes ended quickly on Bump Day when he took the first attempt of the day and ran four incident-free laps on the 2.5-mile oval at an average speed of 219.184 mph.

"It's been a tough month, probably my most frustrating yet," said Foyt, who will start on the last row for the first time. "That's how the speedway is, you never know what's going to happen. Thankfully we went out early and put four laps down."

With the rest of the day available for race-trim work, the team needed to get back out -- only one more hour of practice, Friday's Carb Day, is left before race day -- but the car came back to Gasoline Alley on a tow hook.

"We won't have any problem getting the primary car repaired for race day," No. 2 team manager Keven Kukulewicz said. "Everything is repairable."

It wasn't the only mishap in the Vision Racing stable on Sunday. Davey Hamilton's No. 22, 18th on the grid, blew an engine in the morning practice.

"We were just starting to get into our full long run. This engine has been flawless all month," Hamilton said. "Stuff like that happens sometimes. We'll go investigate, and the Honda guys will come down and tell us what it was. Thank God that nothing big happened and we didn't get into the wall or anything."

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

Giebler improving; Texas race next for team

American Dream Motorsports' bid to make the 500 never made it to the qualifying line, as Phil Giebler crashed Saturday during practice laps. He was hospitalized overnight with bruised lungs and released Sunday but not cleared to race.

He wouldn't have raced at Indy anyway, because the Panoz-Honda could not be repaired in time for Sunday qualifying, but Saturday night team owner Eric Zimmerman was still exploring ways to get back on the track, possibly with Jaques Lazier in a car bought from somewhere else in the garage. That never materialized, but Zimmerman said the team would acquire a new Dallara in time for the June 7 race at Texas Motor Speedway and as many as four more races, with plans to go full-time in 2009.

"Phil is still our driver and we back him 100 percent," Zimmerman said. "Until he gets better, Jaques will be in the car, but Phil is our driver."

Windswept day of work

Sarah Fisher

Fisher

For teams safely in the field, Sunday was one final full day of work before Carb Day and race day. Rain wasn't a problem, but gusty winds made it tough for some to accomplish much on the oval.

"The car was moving around all over the place, and I just couldn't trust it," said Sarah Fisher, 22nd on the grid. "We have a good race car, and running around the track in these conditions isn't accomplishing much for us. So as an owner, I had to make that decision to park it for the day."

Newman/Haas/Lanigan rookies Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson found the conditions more to their liking, making laps in traffic.

"We used today to fine-tune our race setup," Wilson said. "We ran in some traffic again, and the car feels pretty good. I'm hopeful that we've done all our preparation the right way and have quite a good race car. We'll just have to sit and ponder it for the next week."

A long way back after crash

Max Papis never made a qualifying attempt Sunday in the No. 44 Rubicon Race Team entry, but it wasn't for lack of frenzied effort Saturday and into Sunday. The Italian crashed hard in morning practice before third-day qualifying, giving his team a ton of work to do and about 24 hours to do it. The chronology of getting the No. 44 back together, according to the IndyCar Series:
  • Noon-4 p.m. Saturday: Team collects parts from all over garage, including Dallara and Vision Racing.
  • 5 p.m.: Engine change.
  • 5-10 p.m.: Took several parts to Sam Schmidt Motorsports shop in Indianapolis for additional work.
  • 1 a.m. Sunday: Some team members went home. Some did not. Crew chief Chris Griffis never left the track after arriving Saturday morning.
  • 10:30 a.m.: Full team continues to work on Gasoline Alley.
  • 1:14 p.m.: No. 44 back on track.

"We rebuilt it with a lot of effort and tried as hard as we could, and I guess that today was not meant to be," said Papis, a two-time 500 starter, most recently in 2006. "The word 'disappointment' is not enough to describe it."

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