By Motorsport.com staff With 20 minutes remaining on Pole Day, the qualifying line was empty and the track was open for practice. Still out in the cold was Eddie Cheever, who has been having problems all day. Cheever hung everything out on a...
By Motorsport.com staff
With 20 minutes remaining on Pole Day, the qualifying line was empty and the track was open for practice. Still out in the cold was Eddie Cheever, who has been having problems all day. Cheever hung everything out on a run that netted only 220 mph and a waveoff. "We've lost four miles per hour in the past 24 hours," he moaned.
With less than 10 minutes to go, Cheever and Chief Mechanic Owen Snyder had tweaked the car and were on the track again. Running as hard as before, but no faster, they settled for 220.513 mph, 25th fastest for the day.
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Qualifying day opened with Tony Stewart on top of morning practice at over 226 mph, and Eliseo Salazar finding the wall. The A.J. Foyt crew got busy fixing the damage while qualifying got under way under clear skies and temperature in the high 50s.
The first few drivers out were a little slower than they had hoped, but were above their "keep" targets and took their times. The consensus was that 220 mph would make the field.
Arie Luyendyk, who retired from racing two years ago but who could not shake the desire, returned in style as the first qualifier. His run of 224.257 mph will put him near the front of the field.
Roger Penske showed that he was back when his driver Gil De Ferran, fourth to take a time, sat on the early provisional pole at 224.393. Defending CART champion Gil cracked a smile, happy to be in the race.
Jeff Ward and Sarah Fisher waved off their first qualifying runs, Ward with handling problems and Fisher with a loose piece of bodywork.
Roberto Guerrero showed the value of experience when he ran Dick Simon's No. 7 at just over the magic 220 mph mark. He got into the car when regular driver Stephan Gregoire could not get the car up to speed. Roberto made it go, and was given the nod for qualifying. The team will prepare their backup car for Stephan.
Michael Andretti, back after a five year absence, qualified at just under 221 mph. His speed was hurt by a push during the last two laps, but he was satisfied. "I'll take it. I'll sleep better tonight." Andretti and other regulars in the CART series are under pressure to qualify this weekend because they are committed to the CART race in Motegi, Japan next weekend.
Rookie Jon Herb hit his stride today. His morning practice time of 221.836 mph was his best of the month, and he kicked it up a notch with a four-lap qualifying average of 222.015 mph.
First to crack 225 - and 226 - mph with a qualifying lap was Scott Sharp, who has been fast all month. Down to just above the white line in the corners, and to within inches of the wall coming out, he finished with a four lap average of 226.037 mph, giving him the provisional pole. With a huge smile on his face, but with Tony Stewart coming up next, and Greg Ray yet to run.
Tony Stewart, coveting the pole, started off quickly enough with a first lap over 225 mph, but lost speed with each lap as the car developed a push. The former Indy Racing champion finished with a solid 224.248 mph average, but no pole. Stewart was satisfied to be in the race. "I've never seen anybody get their picture on the Borg Warner trophy from qualifying."
Greg Ray, who has a passion for poles, only hit the 224-225 mph range on the first lap of his first qualifying attempt. Team Menard waved off the run. They'll look for the missing speed and go pole-hunting later this afternoon.
Jimmy Vasser, back again this year with a one-race deal with Chip Ganassi, made the show with a solid four lap run of 223.455 mph.
Billy Boat, who had run above 222 mph in morning practice, waved off his first attempt when the car did not get up to 220 mph.
Veteran Mark Dismore mustered only 221 mph on his first qualifying laps at around 1 pm EST The car had developed a push when the track warmed up. Knowing the car has more speed, the team waved the run off. They'll try again as the afternoon cools down.
With winds gusting from the north at up to 14 mph, a number of cars could be heard hitting the rev limiter as they ran downwind along the front stretch.
Wind and temperature (and bumping the rev limiter) did not hurt Helio Castroneves as he ran a four lap average of 224.142 mph, well in the field. With two cars qualified, a relieved Roger Penske said "This is a great day for us". Castroneves, who had kissed the wall earlier this week, kept it nicely on the track today and vowed to kiss only girls in the future.
Jeff Ward, who was over 225 mph in morning practice, waved off a second run when his first lap was only 219 mph. "The track has changed so much since this morning," Ward said. "We may just wait until it cools off later this afternoon."
Loose bodywork repaired, Sarah Fisher (hitting the rev limiter on the front straight) qualified with a four lap average 222.548 mph. "I was going for the most consistent (run)," Sarah said.
Going out at nearly 1:30, in the hot part of the day, fromer 500 winner and reigning Indy Racing champion Buddy Lazier had a first lap over 225 mph, then successively slowed with a final lap in the 222 range. The car even smelled hot after the run, but his four lap average of 224.190 put him well into the top end of the field.
By around 1:30 18 cars were qualified and the qualifying line was empty. The track was closed for inspection prior to being reopened for practice. More pole-day qualifying is expected later this afternoon as the day cools.
At 1:50 EST Dennis McCormack announced that Jimmy Kite will drive for McCormack Motorsports, replacing Brandon Erwin. The team is preparing the car for Jimmy, and expects to to make a qualifying run later this afternoon.
At 2:00 EST, as cars were practicing, winds were reported gusting up to 20 mph, exacerbating the problems of headwind on the back straight and tailwind (and rev limiter action) on the front.
At 3:50 EST, Chip Ganassi announced that, with Tony Stewart and Jimmy Vasser safely in the field in their primary cars, he will put Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian into the team's two backup cars. Bruno and Nic are Target Chip Ganassi's regular CART drivers, but are rookies in both CART and Indy racing. Ganassi had decided to bring in two Indianapolis veterans for the 500, letting the rookies concentrate on their CART season. But with two cars in the garage, and two drivers who did well in their rookie tests, Chip said "I've got nothing to lose." They will attempt to qualify tomorrow in a one-shot situation: they are committed to race at Motegi next week.
By 4:30 EST, cars were lined up at Tech on pit road, waiting for the right moment for a late-afternoon qualifying run.
First to blink and hit the track was Mark Dismore, who was fast during the month but waved off when he couldn't quite get it going earlier today. It was a good blink, with his first lap over 225 mph and a final four-lap average just under 225 mph. That put him next to his teammate, provisional pole sitter Scott Sharp.
Robby Gordon took to the track next, driving for A.J. Foyt, hoping to repeat his 224+ mph morning practice speed. Using every inch of the track, he blasted around at 224.994 mph, not quite enough to knock Scott Sharp off the pole, but faster than Dismore, splitting the Kelly teammates.
Jeff Ward, hitting the track for the third time today, began with a good first lap, over 225 mph, but progressively slowed as he picked up a push. His four lap average of 224.222 mph was good enough to put him (provisionally) on the inside of the third row.
Scott Goodyear, after spending the day fighting electrical gremlins pulled everything out of his pocket (and every inch out of the track) 222.529 mph, a solid mid-field position. Despite a few hairy moments, Scott ran four very consistent laps, with less than 0.08 second spread between them.
Greg Ray, who had waved off a fast run ealier today, took his best shot at the pole. By the time the smoke (and the white knuckles) cleared, he had gone 225.194 mph - faster than everone except Scott Sharp, who still held the pole.