INDIANAPOLIS — It’s time to empty the notebook. Four practice days and two qualifying days are now behind us in preparation for next Sunday’s 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). We saw a dramatic end to qualifying on Saturday to where Dalton Kellett nearly put himself out of the field of 33. Kellett, pulled his time as the 30th and final driver into the field on Saturday to make another go of it.
In the past, the driver with the 31st quickest speed would then get bumped back up to 30th. Will Power had just gone 229.052 mph. That would have put him back in. Kellett, gave up his four lap average of 229.250 mph.
But, AJ Foyt Racing knew something most didn’t – if you weren’t in the top 30 then your time was thrown out. They didn’t count it. You were out. So, at the time Kellett went back out, only 29 speeds were counted for. It didn’t matter what they did, he would be in the field no matter what his speed was.
One problem, the timing was slightly off. Kellett, was going to finish his run before the 5:50 p.m. ET gun would shoot to signify the end of qualifying. He had to go for it. His four lap average?
228.323 mph. He lost time. He thought he knocked himself out. Power thought he was placed back in. Rules stated otherwise.
Kellett was still in, but his time was lower now and at 228.323 mph. Simona de Silvestro rolled off pit road with just eight seconds to spare. That, not 229.250 mph was the time she had to now beat. Did it come back to bite them still?
It didn’t. Kellett emotionally got in. That as wild enough but we had another day of this on Sunday. The Last Row Shootout was somewhat anticlimactic while the Front Row Shootout didn’t disappoint.
With that said, what the top storylines leaving this weekend.
Where Are The Penske’s?
I think one of the biggest stories of the week was where the Penske’s went. Last year, they struggled here. So, in Penske fashion, they started working on this year’s Indy 500 car one day after last year’s disappointing race ended. They’ve tinkered with it and felt like they had a vastly improved car for the 105th Running.
That’s been the talk all the way leading up to Fast Friday. Just how improved that they felt like they were. Will Power said this was as good as he’s felt for an Indy 500 win in years and that counts 2018 when he did win here. He told me on Sunday that he practiced in the front of the trains during the first three practice days since he felt like he’d be there in the race.
Then, Fast Friday happens. They were absent from the top of the speed chart. That led a disappointing qualifying session which led to Power being surprisingly in the Last Row Shootout.
Power, ended up making it, but he’ll start a disappointing 32nd. He was joined back there via Simona de Silvestro who will start alongside of him in 33rd on the last row.
Penske’s struggles is arguably the biggest story here so far.
Honda’s Have A Leg Up But Chevy’s Problem Is Team Specific
Honda clearly has the powerplant to beat. They placed seven cars in the top nine Shootout and have 11 of the top 13 starters. That come after sweeping the front row last year and having eight of the Fast Nine. But, prior to that, Chevrolet dominated here. They swept the front row in 2018 and again in 2019. They vowed to fix last year’s struggles in the return this May.
While race practice seemed even, qualifying wasn’t. But, Ed Carpenter Racing did show that it’s not necessarily a bowtie problem, it’s more a team specific issue with themselves.
ECR has two of the top four starters. Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist are up towards the front as each starts in the top 14. It’s the absence of the Penske’s to where this alters everything. If Penske had ECR’s pace, then this would maybe be what’s wrong with the Honda’s.
Will Power told me on pit road after narrowly qualifying in the show that they’re baffled on how they could be so off. They don’t understand. They’ve worked so hard to get better and they didn’t gain anything on the field.
Welcome Back Fans
Last August seemed sacrilegious to host a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and have no fans here to witness it. The place seemed dead. You didn’t realize how dead until the fans are back here this week. It feels alive again.
Roger Penske told me that the qualifying crowd on Saturday was the biggest for that day since 2016. The drivers all felt it.
“Yeah, if I was a fan, I’d be really excited with that Fast Nine qualifying,” Colton Herta said. “Really, guys that just kept going faster every single run. It was actually really close for everyone.
“It was cool to see how guys got there in the end different ways. Some guys have more consistency, some guys put up huge laps in the beginning and slowed down more. For us it was a more consistent run.”
As for how it felt to get out of the car and to hear fans again?
“It felt good,” he said. “Probably a good thing that fans weren’t here last year because I didn’t make the Fast Nine. I was happy they were here when I was in it.
“Yeah, obviously the fans are awesome. They bring out the energy so much. It’s awesome to have them back. Really good show for the people that came. A lot of people did come. It was exciting to see that. A lot of people in turn four. Obviously on the frontstretch, turn one on the second deck. Yeah, hopefully put on a good show for them. I know we will in a week’s time.”
Third place starter next Sunday in Rinus VeeKay agrees.
“Yeah, it’s amazing,” said the 20 year old driver. “I did not hear the crowds when I did my first lap, but I heard it was quite amazing. When I got out of the car, I waved at the fans. That feeling, there’s goose bumps, then there’s something else. Well, that’s what I had.
“It’s amazing. You really feel like a rock star, like an INDYCAR driver now. Last week’s win really helped with the fan base. I think today, too. I just love that the fans are out here. I try to make as much time as possible for them.
“Yeah, the walk from Gasoline Alley to the garages are quite long, but I enjoy every minute of every fan that comes to me.”
The Kids Are Alright
All week, it was looking like this was going to be a veteran dominated Indy 500. Will Power (40) was quickest in practice on Tuesday. Scott Dixon was quickest twice since. He’s also 40. Tony Kanaan (46) was fastest on Thursday. Five of the nine drivers in the Fast Nine were 40 years of age or older.
Then, Colton Herta and Rinus VeeKay go out and qualify on the front row to make this the youngest front row in the 105 year history of the race. Herta, just turned 21. VeeKay is only 20. Throw in 24 year old Alex Palou in sixth and you get half of the top 2 Rows being 24 years of age or younger.
With four of the five winners this season being 24 or younger, maybe the youth is now being served here after all.
Ganassi/ECR Looked The Best All Week
We can’t be too shocked that Ganassi and ECR took six of the nine spots into the Fast Nine. They were tops all week and I wrote about that on Thursday. It was Ganassi and ECR’s pole to lose and maybe shaping up to be their race to lose too.
Scott Dixon in a Ganassi car took the pole. His teammate Tony Kanaan starts fifth. Another Ganassi in Alex Palou is sixth while Marcus Ericsson puts all four cars in the top 3 Rows.
ECR had Ed Carpenter starting fourth but his driver in Rinus VeeKay earning a front row spot to give five of the top six starters being a part of Ganassi or ECR.
Plus, in race practice after qualifying, all four Ganassis were in the top five with the other an ECR car.
With this race being a track position race lately, that bodes well for one of these guys to win next Sunday.