INDIANAPOLIS — 35 cars entered, 33 would make next Sunday’s 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). The Last Row Shootout has seen some dramatic moments and Sunday’s edition didn’t disappoint.
Will Power was the big story of the day on if the Team Penske driver could make it into the field of 33 for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. It was reminiscent with shades of 1995 here. You had Power fighting for a spot against two of the newest teams in the sport, one of which being the all female led Paretta Autosport team.
Power lived up to the billing of this day on his qualifying run. He was slower than the car in front of him (Sage Karam) and scrapped the SAFER barrier pretty good exiting Turn 2 on his fourth and final lap. His four lap average was 228.876 mph in his No. 12 Chevrolet which appeared to be somewhat threatening.
The tow was knocked out on Power’s car and to add to the drama, if they wanted to fix it, they would have had to withdraw their time. With being 32nd after the first set of runs among the five cars in the Shootout, why do that?
On the flip side, if you wait too late to do that, you’d maybe run out of time. Power and his team elected to wait and it was a wise choice.
Charlie Kimball and RC Enerson were trying to bump their ways in and Kimball’s quickest lap all month was 228.584 mph and Enerson’s 227.384 mph. They’d have to sustain four of the best laps of the month to knock him out which was highly unlikely.
Kimball, was only 26th, 33rd, 29th and 34th respectively on the speed charts this month. The speed just wasn’t there.
Power, after making the Fast Nine here for 11 straight years and is second on the all-time NTT IndyCar Series poles list at 62, will start 32nd next Sunday.
Karam (229.156 mph) will start 31st for the fourth time in eight Indy 500 tries including three straight years now.
“It wasn’t easy today because you had the wind on your nose and then you just had to deal with four laps,” Power said. “Stressful man. Stressful. Big relief. It will be a good sleep tonight.
“Lets put it this way, I can say in my career that I’ve experienced everything. This is just another point of my career of the experience. You’ll remember back on your career to the day that you just got in with a brush of the wall.”
Power said that he knew though that nothing was guaranteed. Yes, he had the best car among the shootout, but he was nervous other teams could spire against them too.
“It just dawned on me last night that some of these guys can get a setup from another team,” Power admitted. “I did not take it lightly. I knew that it was going to be hard.”
As to when he felt like he could relax?
“Three minutes to go. Honestly after I completed the run and I saw the other guys speeds I knew how hard it was going to be to improve from there. But I never ever, this place you just don’t know. Someone could go out, the wind could be good and they can trim out. You can not come into the place thinking that you’ll get into the race.”
Power said that they were baffled and perplexed to be in this position.
“We just didn’t have the speed,” he noted.
The thing is, they spend so much time this off-season in Indy development and it didn’t pan out. That’s puzzling to them.
“We don’t know,” he told me on what areas do they feel like they’re missing. “I can’t tell you how much of an effort that we put on this race and we just don’t know. They did a great job. We don’t understand. We don’t understand. It’s not from a lack of effort.”
Power said his race car is good and that they’ve been strong in that setup. It’s just that he’s worked in front of the train all week because they expected to be there next Sunday. Now, that approach changes.
“Our race car is good. We were strong. We were good in race work. I’ve been practicing running at the front of the trains because I expected to be at the front.”
Penske is thrilled to have this over too. On the promoter side he’s ecstatic. On the owner of a team side, he was stressed.
“I thought a lot about that last night,” Penske admitted. It is what it is. We were here in ’95 and had a similar situation. It’s over, now let’s go race.
Penske told me that Montoya won this race for him in 2015 from the back so he wouldn’t count them out just yet. It’s just that they’ll need to be Penske perfect next Sunday to do so.
“We’re going to have some luck and some good strategy. We’re going to have to work hard to get to the front with the other guys. Our race setups seem to be good but you never know.”
Penske also noted that the format is great, the crowd was great and his number one goal was accomplished. Everything above left the bump spot to Simona de Silvestro. The Swiss Miss qualified with a time of 228.353 mph in her No. 16 Chevrolet to become the second fastest “slowest” qualifier in the 105 year history of this race. The previous best was 227.920 mph by Buddy Lazier in 2014 and Kyle Kaiser (227.372 mph) in 2019. Coincidentally enough, de Silvestro’s car was Kaiser’s car from Juncos Racing that year.
“I think the format was great. The way that they can go back out and to hear the fans,” he told me. “Then with Simona, to have a woman in this race was one of really my number one goals after last year when we didn’t have one in the race. That’s one thing that I can say that I couldn’t feel better about.”
“I think if you look at the numbers, yesterday was the best Saturday since 2016. In a world that’s upside down with COVID, I’d say we made some progress.
Penske, bought the car from Juncos this offseason and leased it to Paretta this winter to start up this team. They had bump day drama like Kaiser and Juncos did that day two years ago, the last time we had bumping too, when Kaiser and the little team in Juncos bumped out the big and mighty McLaren team with Fernando Alonso as the last qualifier of the session that year.
Alonso and both Carlin cars (Max Chilton, Pato O’Ward) were bumped from the field in 2019 when they got one attempt each. James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann were each bumped from the field one year earlier in 2018.
This year, everyone got multiple attempts to get in the field, but the trio laid down quick times that neither Kimball nor Enerson could beat.
It’s disappointing for AJ Foyt Racing in the sense that they showed up with four cars this year and one of them goes home. This is the fourth time in five tries that Foyt had shown up to Indy with four cars and at least one of them went home.
Enerson missed the show with the first year Top Gun team. It’s not too surprising in the sense that they really were delayed in everything that they did coming into this month. They had a car, had a driver and had all the equipment but lollygagged around far too long and didn’t state their intention to run in the ‘500 until the day the entry list came out.
They missed the two-day open test in April and all the most beneficial time allotted to get up to speed. So, you can’t be surprised they missed the race.
This weekend also showed the benefit of the no tow list on Fast Friday. All five cars in this Shootout were in the bottom seven of the no tow chart that day. The two slowest?
Kimball and Enerson.