Commentary

Indianapolis Motor Speedway idle for second straight day because of rain

It's not time to panic … yet. A second straight day of practice for the 92nd Indy 500 was canceled because of rain, which means Fast Friday on the 2.5-mile oval will be fast and furious indeed, writes John Schwarb.

Updated: May 8, 2008, 6:40 PM ET
By John Schwarb | Special to ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- There won't be traffic cops in the turns at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, though it might look as if there should be.

After a second consecutive day of rain Thursday canceled another practice for the 92nd Indianapolis 500 (ABC, May 25 at noon ET), Fast Friday is shaping up to be hectic on the 2.5-mile oval.

Thirty-four drivers have been on the track so far, but outside the rookies who had two days of orientation, everyone has been out for full-field practice only on Tuesday. With Pole Day scheduled for Saturday (ABC, 3 p.m. ET) and the first 22 spots in the field set to be filled by Sunday night, time is running out to find enough speed to challenge for the pole, earn a top-11 qualifying slot Saturday or avoid second-week qualifying, depending on a team's perspective.

"It's going to be busy," Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe said. "If you get every day of practice, then everyone's sort of managing their miles and saving tires a bit. After everyone's got two days off and you get on the track one day before qualifying, everyone's going to be out running new tires and doing as many laps as they can."

[+] EnlargeSarah Fisher
AP Photo/Tom StrattmanSarah Fisher's race car couldn't go, but her bike handled just fine at rainy Indy.

The consecutive days lost were the first at the track since 2006, when Fast Friday and Pole Day were rainouts. Fortunately for teams and fans, Friday's forecast calls for merely mostly cloudy skies, though there is a chance of showers later in the day.

Gasoline Alley wasn't completely quiet Thursday, as teams toiled behind closed garage doors.

"They're just fine-tuning everything, setting everything up again, checking the wind measurements, checking all the suspension components, the dampers we've changed slightly throughout the week," said Justin Wilson, an Indy 500 rookie with Newman/Haas/Lanigan. "The engineers are studying the data to make sure that what we think we've learned is as right as we can get it before we go on track again and validate that."

Wilson and the other 12 Indy newcomers, the biggest rookie class since 1997, need more of that on-track validation time. Every lap is a learning experience.

"I consider this a puzzle," said E.J. Viso of HVM Racing. "Each day we are finding a new piece, and at the end it's all about how many pieces we have found for the whole puzzle. It's about putting them all together for qualifying."

Experienced Indy 500 teams aren't as hurt by a couple of days of weather snags, especially those like two-time 500 starter Briscoe, who came out of the box fast.

"I feel with the experience of the team and my third time here, I don't think we'll be at any disadvantage. We're confident we can hit the track with a good car balance and be competitive," said Briscoe, whose 224.804 mph lap was fourth best in Tuesday's practice.

"It's certainly tougher on a lot of the new guys, maybe especially some of the new guys that are maybe feeling with a bit of extra practice they have a shot at being P-11 or something on Pole Day. Probably a lot of the new guys are aiming more at Day 2 of qualifying so they can get a bit of running anyway on Saturday in preparation for that, but you can never count anyone out here. For us, we have to make sure we get in on Day 1."

Working toward that goal is easier with track time, but weather delays are par for the course at Indy.

"I don't think any downtime is necessarily good because I think all of us up here would just as soon be out there running right now and having to work late with the teams to make our cars faster," said Dreyer & Reinbold's Buddy Rice, eighth on the speed charts at 224.170 and the 2004 Indy 500 winner in a rain-shortened event.

"But at the same time, it's just part of the month."

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