Big names in, but one spot remains in Indy field
Al Unser Jr. and John Andretti can breathe a little easier. Both all but locked up spots on the Indy 500 grid on Saturday. But the field isn't complete, and Bump Day looms, writes John Schwarb.
Saturday's third-day qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway saw plenty of action but did not meet its goal of filling the entire field. Tomorrow's Bump Day first will look for a 33rd starter, then bumping may commence with as many as four cars, some of which have not turned a single lap on the 2.5-mile oval.
The race appeared to be on its way to filling up until rookie Phil Giebler lost control on the final lap of his attempt just before 5:30 p.m., getting above the groove in Turn 2 and losing control into the wall. Giebler was unhurt but his Playa Del Racing car sustained moderate damage to the right front and rear wing.
"The car was really running good, and obviously we had the speed to get in no problem," said Giebler, who may have qualified as high as 25th based on his first three laps. "All of a sudden, the car just had a big understeer into the exit of 2, I tried to do whatever I could do to save it, as much lock as I could and backed out of it and scraped the wall.
"I've just decided to give the team another obstacle here with doing that."
After Giebler's attempt, Chastain Motorsports' Roberto Moreno and PDM Racing's Jimmy Kite made successful attempts at underwhelming speeds of 216.229 and 214.528 mph, respectively. Kite was the 32nd car in the field, and when the gun sounded at 6 p.m. to end the day there were no other cars in the qualifying line.
"Obviously, that's not the best time we've run today," said Kite, who had turned times 2 mph faster in morning practice. "Obviously, we're more than likely going to have to qualify again tomorrow. I mean, I'd be shocked if we didn't."
There could be as many as five cars trying for that final spot and any subsequent bumping. Giebler will be out again if his car is fixed, and PJ Jones should make an attempt for Team Leader (he drove in the morning practice, topping out at 217.449 mph). Also, Richie Hearn was named as the driver of the No. 91 car for Hemelgarn, Larry Foyt completed a physical and could drive a third A.J. Foyt Racing entry and there is a Panoz for Beck Motorsports that could find a driver come Sunday. None of those three cars have seen the racetrack.
In short, there are possibilities for bump day. And isolated thunderstorms in the forecast may make matters even more interesting, especially with each car allowed three qualifying attempts. Early in the day Saturday, the big names not yet in the show parked their Dallara-Hondas in the field of 33. First, Milka Duno joined Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher to make it a first-ever trio of women for the 500. Two hours later, two-time champion Unser Jr. and Andretti added their famous names to the race.
With Unser in the field, this marks the 30th Indianapolis 500 with representation from the Andretti, Foyt and Unser families.
"We're ready to go right now," said Unser, driving for A.J. Foyt.
So is Roger Yasukawa, the fastest of the Saturday qualifiers. The Dreyer & Reinbold driver turned four incredibly consistent laps within .018 seconds of each other at a 222.654 mph average to claim the 23rd starting position.
"I was a bit surprised. I was expecting maybe a 222.1 or maybe the 221s but to do a 222.6 average, the car is running really well," said Yasukawa, a four-time 500 starter who has never finished below 18th.
"We weren't very happy with that, but discretion is the better part of valor here," Herb said. "After seeing Phil Giebler's crash, I think it was a little hotter today, a little bit more slippery out there. So we played it safe, loaded it up with extra fuel and ran around."
It was a full-fuel day for the previously qualified cars, and Ganassi Racing's Dan Wheldon led the brigade at 224.895 in his backup car. The field logged 1,925 laps around the Brickyard, making Saturday the busiest day of the month so far.
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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