Commentary

Indianapolis NASCAR blog -- Saturday

Updated: July 25, 2009, 6:54 PM ET
By Terry Blount, David Newton and K. Lee Davis | ESPN.com

All times Eastern.

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5:02 p.m.

Qualifying was done and drivers were scrambling for a few restful moments before the final practice, but Kevin "Happy" Harvick was ready to talk.

Sort of.

He wouldn't commit to saying he will return to Richard Childress Racing next season. He wouldn't commit to much of anything except trying to improve. If you want to read more about it, see my blog.

And get some rest. We have 400 miles to run tomorrow.

-- David Newton

4:37 p.m.

Mark Martin on what it would mean to win Sunday: "It is the No. 2 crown jewel of stock-car racing. But you don't get to choose where you win. If you're lucky, you get to win."

This is Martin's fourth pole this season, but his first at Indy. Martin and Jeff Burton are the only drivers who have competed in all 15 previous Allstate 400s without winning one.

"I questioned myself whether I could do the job," Martin said of his return to racing full time this season. "I had no idea it would be so spectacular."

-- Terry Blount

4:24 p.m.

Mark Martin on his amazing 2009 season: "I can promise you one thing. There is nobody in NASCAR having more fun than me. Ultimately, that's what it's all about."

-- Terry Blount

4:19 p.m.

Mark Martin is the oldest pole winner for any event in the 100-year history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"I like making history," Martin said. "That's cool."

-- Terry Blount

4:16 p.m.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Brad Keselowski won't be able to make it back to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to make a few practice laps in the No. 88 this evening.

"I guess we'll just have to man up and not go with a backup plan," Earnhardt said.

The No. 88 Chevy team wanted to get Keselowski fitted in the seat in case Earnhardt's stomach virus caused him to get out of the car tomorrow.

Keselowki, who drives for Earnhardt's Nationwide team, is competing in the Kroger 200 tonight at O'Reilly Raceway Park, about five miles west of IMS.

-- Terry Blount

4:07 p.m.

Juan Pablo Montoya will start on the front row Sunday with pole-winner Mark Martin, but Montoya said winning the race is secondary to him to staying in Chase contention.

"I know we have a chance to win tomorrow, but the most important thing is bringing the car home," Montoya said. "If we have a big points day it will be huge."

Montoya is ninth in the standings without a single top-5 this season.

"We're ahead of Mark Martin, who has four wins, and Kyle Busch, who has three," Montoya said. "So tell me points racing doesn't matter."

Montoya also said he would rather win the Allstate 400 than the former U.S. Grand Prix at Indy.

"I think this is a bigger deal than that race was," Montoya said.

-- Terry Blount

4:03 p.m.

Max Papis, Derrike Cope and Sterling Marlin failed to qualify for the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. Ironically, those are the three drivers who wouldn't have made it if qualifying had been rained out.

Marlin was faster than Terry Labonte, but Labonte had a free pass into the field as the most recent past Cup champion.

-- Terry Blount

3:58 p.m.

Carl Edwards is not happy about his qualifying run, second-slowest among the drivers with a guaranteed spot.

"This is about the worst we've ever been," Edwards said. "It's bad. We just have to work harder on our qualifying stuff. I just couldn't get it into the corner. I felt like I was gonna wreck.

"We actually were faster in race trim yesterday. Maybe this is good to remind us [qualifying] is important, too."

-- Terry Blount

2:49 p.m.

Mark Martin was not happy with his qualifying attempt, but he turned a lap more than three-tenths of a second quicker than the next-fastest driver (Juan Pablo Montoya) among the first 18 cars to take the track.

Martin's speed was 182.054 mph. Montoya is No. 2 at the moment with a lap at 180.803 mph.

The track is getting hotter and Martin's time is looking good. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch haven't come close to equaling Martin's lap.

-- Terry Blount

2:35 p.m.

Here's the latest plan for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the 88 Chevy in practice. Brad Keselowski will drive the car for a few laps in the sessions, but Earnhardt said he will drive most of the laps.

The 88 team wants to make sure Keselowski is comfortable in the seat and have the adjustments in place just in case he has to get in the car Sunday and replace Earnhardt.

But Earnhardt said he's feeling better after taking IV fluids this morning.

"I had a stomach bug on Thursday that was about the worst thing I've ever had," he said. "We'll have Brad standing by, but I'll be OK."

Earnhardt must start the race Sunday to earn the points for the event.

-- Terry Blount

2:17 p.m.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- suffering from flu-like symptoms -- made his qualifying lap, but Brad Keselowski will drive the No. 88 Chevy in the final practice session this evening.

Earnhardt will rest and try to get better before Sunday's race. Keselowski will shake down the car and then rush back to O'Reilly Raceway Park (about five miles away) to compete in the Nationwide race that starts at 8 p.m. on ESPN2. Earnhardt qualified second behind teammate Mark Martin, but only 10 of 46 cars have made runs.

-- Terry Blount

2:07 p.m.

Tony Stewart the team owner has become so darn respectable and caring that it's almost scary.

For example, Stewart is giving his time to a worthy event by taking a partnership role in the International Motorsports Industry Show at Indianapolis in December.

IMIS is a two-day trade show for individuals and companies across all facets of racing. Having Stewart donate his time to help IMIS is a big deal to the people involved.

"It's a huge shot in the arm for IMIS to have Tony as a partner," said IMIS founder Chris Paulsen. "He brings a lot to the table. He will help make IMIS a show that hard-core racers cannot afford to miss."

Stewart owns or co-owns 14 racing-related businesses. He's an Indiana guy who wanted to help a major Indianapolis event.

"Being from Indiana, I know how important it is for Indianapolis to have something like the International Motorsports Industry Show," Stewart said. "There's no better place to host it than a place with a rich motorsports heritage."

So Stewart is happy give his time to the event. He also is happy to offer his private jet to an employee next week if needed.

Bill Janitz, one of the best PR guys in NASCAR, works for Stewart's True Speed Communications company. Janitz's wife, Emily, is expecting their first child in three weeks back in Ohio.

Janitz is working the race at Pocono next weekend. If Emily goes into labor early, Stewart told Janitz they will fire up the engines on the jet and get him home pronto. No problem.

"Tony's always been like that for the people who work for him," Janitz said.

Tony Stewart today: Mr. Warm and Fuzzy.

-- Terry Blount

2:01 p.m.

Qualifying is under way and Sam Hornish Jr. is the first to take the track. He set a speed of 179.404 mph.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., still fighting flu-like symptoms, isn't in his car but team officials say he will be in time to go out sixth.

Wait. Here he comes. You can tell by the crowd roar.

-- David Newton

1:59 p.m.

The eeriest feeling I've ever had about this place is the ease of finding a place to park, virtually anywhere between my hotel down near the airport, right into the middle of Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself.

And the big "Coke Lot," acres upon acres of campground behind the main grandstands, is a virtual ghost town, except for the areas immediately adjacent to Georgetown Road.

In 34 years of coming here, I've never before been completely worry-free about parking, regardless of the time of day.

After all these years of gridlocked traffic and "LOT FULL" signs, with the notorious Yellow Shirts telling you only to go away -- who knows where? -- I suppose I should feel relieved.

But all I feel is sad for this long-magnificent, but now humbled, old place. Very sad.

-- Ed Hinton

1:53 p.m.

"Jeff! Jeff Burton!" fans screamed as the driver made his way to pit road for qualifying.

"Ricky! Ricky Bobby!" another yelled.

It has been a long rain delay, time for a lot of adult beverages to be consumed.

***

Dale Inman was a genius as a crew chief, winning eight titles during his career.

He knows good pizza, as well. He convinced me to try a slice of Hunt Brothers Pizza, which will sponsor the No. 43 this week. Have to admit it was a nice change from the media center food.

-- David Newton

1:38 p.m.

The revised schedule for today has qualifying at 2 p.m. and final practice from 5:30 to 7.

The track is dry, and the sun is shining. The guys who had an early qualifying draw now have lost their advantage.

If qualifying had started as scheduled at 10 a.m., the first 10 or 12 drivers to make qualifying laps had a good chance of starting up front because the track was cool.

Not so much now in the middle of the afternoon.

-- Terry Blount

1:20 p.m.

Thank goodness for zipper pants.

A NASCAR official enforced the rule of no short pants in the garage as drivers made their way to their garages. The fan ran over to a bag, pulled out the bottoms of his pants, zipped them on and was good to go.

Still don't know how Ashley Judd got away with a dress at Daytona last season. Well, maybe I do. She has nicer legs.

-- David Newton

1:15 p.m.

The public address announcer just informed all crew members to report to their cars by 1:30 p.m. Looks like qualifying will at least begin soon. A lot of heavy clouds still hover around the track.

-- David Newton

12:59 p.m.

With drivers holed up in their haulers, Chad Knaus was popular for the autograph seekers.

Jimmie Johnson's crew chief was swarmed by fans as he made his way down Gasoline Alley.

Where was Dale Earnhardt Jr. when he needed him?

By the way, the sun is trying to peek through, and the track soon could be dry enough to get qualifying going.

-- David Newton

11:45 a.m.

Three guys in the Cup garage really want to see this qualifying session happen.

Max Papis, Derrike Cope and Sterling Marlin are out of luck if qualifying is rained out. Those three drivers wouldn't make the 43-car field if the grid is set by points.

Tony Stewart would start on the pole with Jeff Gordon next to him up front.

-- Terry Blount

11:45 a.m.

A group called Mobile Fitness is working the garage during the rain delay trying to get involved in the sport.

The business began in the movie industry, bringing a workout center in a hauler to a movie set.

Representatives want to start coming to the track so drivers and crewmen will have a place to stay in shape. It would be a great way to pass time on this rainy day.

-- David Newton

11:35 a.m.

NASCAR is willing to wait as long as it can to get in qualifying, even to the extent of canceling one or both practice sessions. Pole day is a big event at Indy and after last year's tire debacle they want to do all they can for the fans who are here.

-- David Newton

10:51 a.m.

The rain might be a good break for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is being treated for flu-like symptoms.

Earnhardt was on an IV at the infield medical center Friday, and team officials have put Brad Keselowski on standby as a backup driver.

Keselowski is competing at nearby O'Reilly Raceway Park in Saturday night's Nationwide Series race (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

-- David Newton

10:42 a.m.

Jet dryers are back on the track, but no word yet on what the schedule will be today. One thing to remember: Drying the track at IMS usually is at least a two-hour process. And there are plenty of dark clouds hovering in the Indianapolis sky.

-- K. Lee Davis

10:22 a.m.

So what does a crew do in the early evening at the Speedway? Ryan Newman's went fishing in a pond on the golf course here until dark Friday. Lots of bluefish and bass, I am told.

-- David Newton

10:07 a.m.

So much for optimism on 11:45 a.m. qualifying. It is raining again. Hard. I'm trapped in Jimmie Johnson's garage without an umbrella.

-- David Newton

9:54 a.m.

NASCAR officials are cautiously optimistic they can begin qualifying at 11:45 a.m. Crew members are working feverishly to prepare the cars just in case. So far, a wrecker has the fastest lap time. A jet dryer has the slowest. Taking more than 25 minutes to circle the 2.5 mile track.

-- David Newton

9:30 a.m.

Rain, rain, go away. Come again some other day.

Yes, it's raining at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Jet dryers are on the track, but it could be futile, as showers are called for throughout the day. That means the 10 a.m. qualifying won't start on time and could be canceled, which ironically means there would be a competition caution early in Sunday's race.

Imagine that. A competition caution.

Fortunately, the tire wear that forced NASCAR to call a competition caution every nine to 11 laps last season shouldn't be a problem. The new compound Goodyear brought puts rubber down faster than the rain can wash it away.

"This tire was designed to rubber the track up," Jeff Burton said. "You could see a definite difference just running seven to eight cars here to test. You could see the track change colors early."

You could see the track change colors Saturday morning as well.

From dry gray to wet black.

-- David Newton