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Weekend at Indy going to be an exciting whirlwind

5/20/2006

With the weather postponing Pole Day this past weekend, the drivers and teams have had to hit the reset button and do everything in two days instead of four.

To me, that's the right way to do it because it's going to give all the drivers a lot of seat time to get ready for qualifying. Instead of stretching qualifying out over three days, they are going to have it in one day, then have Bump Day on Sunday. Nobody is losing any time, what's changing is the way Indianapolis is accustomed to doing things.

You have to remember, in a NASCAR race you generally do everything in one day -- practice and qualify. The Indianapolis 500 is different because it's such a huge event with Pole Day and Bump Day being special events. But they always had four sessions with Pole Day, the second and third days of qualifying and Bump Day. Now, they will have two.

The question has been raised whether the long process for qualifying at Indy is the right one. My take is the Indianapolis 500 is not like any other race in the world. It's similar to the Daytona 500 with its 125-mile qualifying races, the Bud Shootout and all these different layers of racing before you get lined up for the Daytona 500.

The one thing that's different this year is teams used to have two cars, your main car and your T-car. If one was faster than the other, you would unenroll one car. Now, with the single-engine rule, if you are going to bring out a backup car, you have to take the engine out of the main car and put it in the T-car, and that takes almost two hours to do. So if a driver went out at noon and qualified but was totally unhappy with his speed, he could take the engine out of that car and put it in his T-car as long as he's back out by 6 p.m., which is when the track closes.

The Indianapolis 500 is a special event, treated totally different from anything else. It has a lot of history, and when you go there, you really get how important the race is.

And the speed of an Indy car as opposed to the speed of a stock car is significantly different. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, stand down in Turn 1 and watch the cars come down the front straightaway and go into the turn.

You cannot believe how fast Indy cars are going and still making the corner. They come into the turns at 10,000 rpm and never get off the throttle, letting it run wide open.

In a stock car, in that same circumstance, I'd be completely off the throttle and on the brakes to make that corner. To watch an Indy car go through the corner, you can see just how much faster they are going.

I've mentioned before how strong the Penske and Ganassi cars should be at Indy. I think you can add Andretti Green Racing to the list. AGR is going to be really strong. It might not have the fastest cars qualifying, but once the race starts, it's all going to be about handling and who has the best handling car.

The AGR team has shown this year that it has really good handling cars, but you still have to put it in Penske and Ganassi's lap right now. Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon are strong for Ganassi, as are Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. for Penske. In the Andretti Green camp, Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti are the two best drivers for Michael Andretti.

Danica Patrick and the Rahal Letterman Racing team aren't looking good so far. Patrick's probably wishing she were in a Dallara chassis instead of a Panoz because the team seems as if it can't get the Panoz handling as well as it would like and can't get it to run as fast as the Dallara.

I know Danica feels as if she's outclassed in the car right now. If I were her, I'd stay patient as long as I could and get the car handling the best she can because that is the key. It's too late in the game to change manufacturers and go back to the Dallara chassis. She's just going to have to stay focused and take her lumps, whether they are good or bad.

Michael Andretti is making a comeback, and I've been asked how I would do if I had some seat time before getting in an Indy car.

If I had a month to practice, I'd be competitive. Indy cars are much more technical than stock cars, and you have to rely a lot more on your engineers. The engineers see everything that's going on in the car while it's on the track, unlike with a stock car. When I'm in a stock car and I pull in, the team comes up to me and asks what I want to do. In an Indy car, I would come in and make some comments, then the team would be telling me what to do.

Former Cup champion Rusty Wallace will provide coverage for ESPN and ABC during this year's IndyCar Series and select Nextel Cup races.