FOUR DRIVERS BUMP THEIR WAY INTO '500' FIELD By Nathan Siebens - motorsport.com With a full field established during yesterday's Pole Day, any driver wishing to make the field of 33 for the 83rd Indianapolis 500 needed to "bump" his way in...
FOUR DRIVERS BUMP THEIR WAY INTO '500' FIELD By Nathan Siebens - motorsport.com
With a full field established during yesterday's Pole Day, any driver wishing to make the field of 33 for the 83rd Indianapolis 500 needed to "bump" his way in during today's final qualifying session. At 2:00 pm this afternoon, Robbie Buhl became the fourth, and final driver to do just that. Buhl provided perhaps the most dramatic moment of "Bubble Day." After crashing during his initial qualifying run yesterday, Buhl made his second attempt to make the field in the #44T Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara- Infiniti for Sinden Racing Service ten minutes after the track opened for qualifications today. Unfortunately for Buhl, the engine let go in the short chute between Turns 3 and 4 on his first green flag lap. However, Buhl was not finished, as A.J. Foyt Enterprises, including driver Billy Boat, quickly put together the team's #14T car for Buhl to take one last shot at making the field. The car was re-numbered using black electrical tape, and at 1:58, Buhl pulled onto the circuit in one, last-ditch attempt and making the field. Just as Buhl went out to qualify, sprinkles began falling on the Speedway, but the Michigan native who now calls Indianapolis home was undeterred. After a first lap of 219.866 mph, it didn't appear that Robbie would have the speed to make the show. However, he was able to turn up the wick on the second lap, and posted a much-needed 220.480 mph lap. With third and fourth laps of 220.097 and 220.017 mph, respectively, Buhl managed to knock Mike Groff out of the field by a scant three hundredths of a second to make the field. The rain, which got heavier throughout Buhl's qualifying run, prevented any other driver of making a qualifying attempt. "Basically, when we took the (#44T) car back (after the engine blew) and it started busting apart, we figured with the weather, 'this isn't going to work," said Buhl. "So we kind of scattered around to see what other people had. Somebody talked to A.J., so I went to see him and it was a pretty casual conversation. A.J. was kind enough to say, 'hey, I've got two cars. See which one works best for you.' Our two teams pulled together and made a couple calls that were right. I think we just timed it right." "They said the rain was about 10 or 15 minutes away, and I said to Robbie, 'are you comfortable?'" added Foyt. "He said, 'yeah, let's go for it.' And then, I saw there were two or three cars in line. Then we saw raindrops on pit road. I don't want to put anyone in my car to do a banzai run. I would never put anyone in a car if they weren't comfortable. "That's what I love about racing--this is what it should be. Racing is my livelihood. When Billy Boat got hurt (last year), Robbie helped us out. If they help you out, they turn around and help them out. That's what makes the IRL great." Veteran driver Raul Boesel was the first driver to battle his way into the field. The Brazilian turned in a four-lap average speed of 220.101 mph to put his #3 Brant Racing Riley & Scott-Aurora into the field, removing Lyn St. James. "I'm relieved in one way, but I'm still worried," said Boesel following his run. "Yesterday, I prayed the weather would hold up and we'd have a chance to qualify. Today, my praying has changed. Now that I got in, I hope it rains...soon!" Boesel's prayers were partially answered when it started raining at around 2:00, and any lingering doubts he may have had came to an end at 4:30 when IRL officials called an end to qualifying due to the rain. The fastest of the four Bump Day qualifiers was Johnny Unser in the #92 Tae-Bo Dallara/Olds for Hemelgarn Racing. Unser's speed of 221.197 mph bumped Jacques Lazier, who was hoping to make his first career Indy 500 start. Johnny also became the second driver with the famous last name "Unser" to make the field. "I'm real happy," said Unser. "We've been struggling, and early this week we went in the fence. This morning we made some changes, and Hemelgarn Racing just did an incredible job. It (the speed) was right there. It's definitely been the toughest Indy 500 so far." Dr. Jack Miller, who has the unlikely teammate of Tony Stewart, was the other driver to successfully bump his way. Miller, who had been impressively quick throughout the week leading up to qualifying, had an engine failure during his second qualifying attempt yesterday. Despite yesterday's problems, Miller was still able to find plenty of speed in his qualifying run. His first three qualifying laps were 221.861, 222.145, and 220.675 mph, respectively. However, his fourth lap of 216.518 mph dragged his four-lap average down to 220.276 mph. Nevertheless, it was still enough to make the show. "I came out of Turn 2 (on the fourth lap), and the car was loose," Miller said. "So I had to get off the throttle. It knocked down my straightaway speed going into Turn 3. It's a shame to run a 222 on the second lap and a 216 on the last lap. Right now, we'll take it. Tony (Stewart) as a car owner has been real good. He provides me with a lot of confidence." The car that Miller bumped from the field was that of venerable car owner Dick Simon and driver Stephan Gregoire. Despite turning practice laps inside the top five earlier in the week, Gregoire and Simon find themselves on the outside looking in. It is the first time since 1982 that Simon, who has been a driver, mechanic, owner and engineer, has missed qualifying for the field of 33. "How do I feel?" asked Simon. "I'm heartbroken from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head. It's all I can do to keep from crying. Part of what happened to myself is that we've been here for so many years. The weather was predicted to rain all day today. I looked at the weather myself and it looked like it was 100 percent guaranteed of raining almost all day. "I thought that if we took something above a 220.5, the we would be safe. Stephan went out and ran a 220.3 and a 220.9, so in my mind we were picking up. Unfortunately, we missed the last lap on our watch, so I wasn't able to really realize that I was taking a lot less than I thought. I'm the one to blame." "It's a big shame for me and the team not to be racing," Gregoire added. "We were shooting for the first row, second at worst. It's going to take some time (to get over it). But we have other races behind that, and we'll try to do the best we can." Early in today's qualifying session, Groff managed to bump Scott Harrington out of the starting field. Unfortunately, when Buhl's dramatic run was completed, he found himself in the same position as Harrington. Both drivers will be spectators next Sunday. The field is now set. The average speed of the 33-car starting field is 221.558 mph, up 3.253 mph from last year's average. Three former winners and four rookies are among the 33 drivers to make the field. Rookies Robby McGehee and Wim Eyckmans will be making their first career starts in an Indy car next Sunday.
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