Wednesday a washout at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Updated: May 7, 2008

Tom Strattman/AP Photos

Brazilian driver Vitor Meira spent part of Wednesday's rain delay at Indy signing autographs.

INDIANAPOLIS -- It wouldn't be the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway without weather snags.

After two days of rookie orientation and the busiest first day of full-field practice in nine years, Wednesday's preparations for the 92nd Indianapolis 500 (ABC, May 25 at noon ET) ground to a halt under rainy skies.

Not since 2006's Pole Day had an entire day of track activity been lost to weather. That year the pre-qualifying Fast Friday also was a washout, making it two consecutive lost days. That scenario looks possible again this week, with Thursday's forecast calling for more rain. There's also a small chance of rain Friday.

In other words, the anxiety is about to ratchet up for many teams that wanted as much track time as possible in advance of Saturday's Pole Day (ABC, 3 p.m. ET).

"All I was really able to do today was put my race suit on and off a few times," said Vision Racing's Ed Carpenter. "It's disappointing to have it rain after we weren't real thrilled with our runs yesterday, so I really wanted to get back out on track to see if we made any gains, which I'm confident we have."

Drivers who laid down fast times Tuesday rode out the rain more comfortably in Gasoline Alley or their motorcoaches, knowing they're in the ballpark of where they want to be for the weekend. The Andretti Green Racing stable showed its strength when the track was open, with Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan and Danica Patrick safely in the top 10 on the speed charts. Andretti turned in the top lap at 226.599 mph with a tow and Kanaan was second at 225.269 mph.

"It's a very long month, and the car was fast yesterday, so I don't think we missed anything by not getting on the track today," said Kanaan, who in six previous 500s has never qualified worse than fifth. "I hope we can get back on the track again by Saturday, but I feel comfortable with where we are right now."

The name of the game with the two-weekend, four-day qualifying format is to secure one's place on the grid in the first weekend; if not among the top 11 cars on Saturday, then hopefully among the next 11 on Sunday. (Three chances to qualify are available to each car on each day.) Miss that, and it's a long wait until third-day qualifying and Bump Day, which has renewed significance with at least 36 cars vying for 33 spots.

"If the conditions are not ideal, the more experienced guys know how to deal with that quicker than we do," said Justin Wilson of Newman/Haas/Lanigan, one of 13 Indy 500 rookies, 12th on the speed charts in full-field practice. "They can change their car, they can find a setup and go out there and run four laps of qualifying and be pretty close; whereas we might be a way off and have to change it, come back for a second attempt, come back for a third attempt. It just makes life a lot harder when you don't have the data to fall back on."

Look at Sarah Fisher, running her first race of the year with the new Sarah Fisher Racing. Her Dallara-Honda turned only 16 laps under friendly skies, the second-smallest workload in the field Tuesday. (Rookie Mario Moraes ran 14 laps.) Her best speed, 217.866 mph, is second-slowest on the charts, ahead of only Milka Duno's 217.412 mph.

"Obviously the rain today is very disappointing," said Fisher, a six-time 500 starter. "We needed the track time today to help the start of our team. This really puts us behind for the month and for qualifying."

She may not be able to catch up Thursday.

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

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Stewart Stops By, But Not To Drive

Tony Stewart

Stewart

Tony Stewart still gets a charge out of riding under the tunnel from 16th Street into the Speedway, even on a rainy day when race cars are nowhere in sight. The Brickyard means that much to the Columbus, Ind., native.

Hoosiers love to daydream of Stewart's return to the track in an Indy car to chase the Borg-Warner Trophy that eluded him in five starts between 1996-2001, but the Sprint Cup driver said that's becoming less and less likely.

"There's part of me that thinks running at Indy in an Indy car is a chapter of my life that's closed, and then there's the emotional part of me that says, 'Never say never,'" said Stewart, visiting the track Wednesday for a press conference with Chevrolet, engine provider to his Tony Stewart Racing midget and sprint car teams. "I don't know if I'll ever get in an Indy car again, but if that happens, it's obviously going to be a long way down the road. I have a lot of commitments on the NASCAR side."

Stewart did the Memorial Day weekend double in 1999 and 2001, driving at Indy and then flying to Concord, N.C., to compete in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 that same evening. That's nearly impossible to pull off nowadays now that the 500 has moved its start time back to 1 p.m., and Stewart said he wouldn't do it again anyway as a one-off 500 team.

"If I was going to come do Indianapolis again, I don't want to just show up for the month of May. If I'm going to do it I need to start at Homestead and run all the races leading up to the month of May to really feel like that I'm being fair to the team and being fair to myself and have enough time in the car," said Stewart, the 1997 IndyCar Series champion.

"As long as I'm driving a stock car, that takes it out of the equation. I'm not going to be one of these guys that just shows up to run the Indy 500. I've ran the Indy 500, I want to win the Indy 500. The era that a driver can just come on a one-off race is virtually impossible now -- it's that competitive where you can't take it for granted, and you can't come in and expect to be as good as the guys who do this every week."

As for his much-discussed, up-in-the-air future in Sprint Cup, Stewart didn't offer any clues but did note that perceived conflicts in manufacturers -- he drives a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, but Tony Stewart Racing runs Chevrolet engines -- aren't an issue.

"It wasn't weird when we started this program and they were Mopars and I was driving Chevys [for Gibbs]. It was never weird then, it's not weird now," Stewart said. "Everybody's been good about it from day one. Mopar understood my commitment to Chevrolet on the stock car side. All it did was switch positions -- the open-wheel side went to Chevrolet, and we went to Toyota. Both sides are good, I know what my role is with both operations and we move on."

One thing is guaranteed: Smoke, who turns 37 this month, will be back at the speedway in July for the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. He has won it twice and finished every lap in nine starts.

Wisdom From Dad

So what exactly does an Indianapolis 500 champion tell his son about conquering the 2.5-mile Indy oval? Bobby Rahal's going to get that question a lot this month with 19-year-old Graham racing here for the first time, but the answer may not be as in-depth as one would think.

"It's similar with all the ovals -- be patient," said the elder Rahal, the 1986 winner. "That's maybe even more important here because of the length of time that you're out here, how many laps you're doing, the hiccups that can happen. So you have to stay very patient and very disciplined. Those were the two probably biggest pieces of advice I can give him.

"I can't tell him how to drive, other than his slide [in practice] yesterday. I did tell him he didn't need to do that again."

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