Andretti Green qualifies five cars in top 11 spots


They came up short by this much for the pole position and had to do some sweating elsewhere, but overall it would be tough for Andretti Green Racing to look at Saturday's qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 as anything but a smashing success.

The team's five cars all landed in the top 11 spots during first-day qualifying, including two on the front row with Tony Kanaan (225.757 mph) and Dario Franchitti (225.191 mph).

"We're starting on the front row, hopefully we will have a very strong race car," said Franchitti, whose previous high start in four Indy 500s was sixth. "With Andretti Green being able to put in five cars today, that is very strong. It was just a phenomenal event here. We're going into the race with a lot of optimism."

Kanaan had the busiest day of the AGR stable, opting to pull a sixth-place qualifying time off the board in an attempt for the pole. He came up agonizingly short by .06 mph, but gave the crowd a thrill as he tried to chase down pole-sitter Helio Castroneves.

"I'm a racer and I wanted to go for the pole, I wanted to give this team what they deserved and [a reward for] all the work the engineers have done," said Kanaan, the pole-sitter in 2005. "I'm pretty happy, and I think we have a pretty good car, so let's go race."

Danica Patrick, another AGR entry who had been strong all week in practice, qualified eighth at 224.076 mph. It was a welcome change from last year, where she struggled with a Rahal Letterman Racing Panoz chassis that was inferior to the dominant Dallara.

"Filling the front row with AGR cars, that was something that was realistic," Patrick said. "This has really shown how hard AGR has worked over the last six, eight months on their cars. This is a lot different than it was last year. I'm sure glad I'm there."

As for the Andrettis of Andretti Green Racing, it was more of an uncertain day but equally good in terms of getting qualifying out of the way. Marco Andretti landed ninth on the grid, fighting his car.

"The problem is, the thing is on edge at both ends," said last year's Indy 500 runner-up. "If it was just doing one thing you could try to fix it. If we attack the understeer, it's only going to be worse in the rear. It was a tough, tough lap for me, plus the speed wasn't there."

As for Marco's father and AGR co-owner Michael Andretti, it was a bubble day. His four-lap average of 222.789 mph put him 11th, and he had to sweat out late-afternoon bump attempts from Jeff Simmons, Ed Carpenter and Darren Manning.

"It's been a very tough day, it's been a tough week," Michael Andretti said. "I haven't slept much, my car has been off the pace and it's a little frustrating when you have your teammates so much quicker. On the other side, you put on your owner's hat and I'm very happy with the speed of my teammates."

Another Penske presence
It's not the familiar red and white car of Penske present, but it does hearken to Penske past.

Ryan Briscoe's Luczo Dragon Racing Dallara-Honda is bright yellow, similar to the Pennzoil cars Rick Mears drove to two Indy 500 titles for Penske Racing in the 1980s. It is a Penske car -- not Roger Penske's, but instead co-owned by his son Jay Penske. The younger created a team solely for Indy, leased cars from Team Penske and hired Penske American Le Mans Series driver Ryan Briscoe to drive.

"I'm the yellow submarine," Briscoe said.

Not surprisingly, he's fast. Briscoe qualified on the inside of the third row Saturday at 224.410 mph, continuing a solid month of May that has not gone unnoticed in Gasoline Alley.

"I think he's definitely made a very strong run out there," Danica Patrick said.

After her qualifying attempt -- eighth, next to Briscoe in Row 3 -- Patrick had some thoughts on how Briscoe's speed may translate on race day.

"I would say this to his face, so I'm not saying anything out of line, but he crashes," she said "I've seen it before, I've been a victim sometimes when he just has some brain fade. I was watching the ALMS race [earlier this season at St. Petersburg] with our Acura car and he crashed into Marino [Franchitti, Andretti Green's ALMS driver].

"He is fast, there is no doubt about it. He's driving for Penske. He wouldn't be driving for Penske if he wasn't fast, but whether or not he can get that together and finish the race and be smart, that's the other half of it. Nobody questions his speed or his driving ability to go out there and run hard."

Try, try again
Scott Sharp, Jeff Simmons and Ed Carpenter had a long Pole Day, and they'll have to do it all again Sunday.

Each made two qualifying attempts but failed to crack the top 11.

"This is a long day. Every day in May seems pretty long, but this is one of the longest ones," Simmons said. You don't want to have to deal with the pressure and all that again, you want to get it done as quickly as possible. Then you can start concentrating on only your race car and stop worrying about qualifying."

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