This weekend’s Indy 500 qualifying format explained

INDIANAPOLIS — The most daring four laps in racing have become even more challenging for those looking to qualify well and win the pole position for the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

Last month, INDYCAR officials announced adjustments to PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying on Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22, which sets the field for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on Sunday, May 29 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

After Day One of qualifying from 11 am-5:50 p.m. (ET) Saturday, May 21, Day Two will include two rounds of qualification attempts to decide the first four rows, including pole position.

Starting in reverse order of speeds based on Day One, each of the top 12 drivers will have a guaranteed attempt to post a traditional four-lap qualifying time starting at 4 p.m. The fastest six will advance to the Firestone Fast Six at 5:10 p.m. to determine positions one through six and compete for the NTT P1 Award for pole. The slowest six will fill out starting positions seven through 12 according to their recorded time.

In the Firestone Fast Six, each entrant is again guaranteed one attempt and will qualify in reverse order based on their Top 12 qualification results. The fastest wins pole position, which includes a $100,000 prize, with the remaining five drivers filling out the remainder of the first two rows.

“We have an incredibly deep field heading into this year’s Indianapolis 500,” said INDYCAR President Jay Frye. “The timing is right to implement a new and dramatic way to expand one of the most intense weekends on our calendar. Winning pole position for the ‘500’ is an incredible feat, and with this new format, it will be even more challenging.”

2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship points will be awarded for those who advance to the Top 12 qualifying session. The Indy 500 pole winner will receive 12 points, the second fastest will receive 11, and points awarded will decrease by one-point increments down to 12th fastest (one point).

“Indianapolis 500 qualifying weekend always is special,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles said “This format will give our fans even more opportunities to see INDYCAR’S world-class drivers compete on racing’s biggest stage. While winning the race is the ultimate prize, capturing pole position for the ‘500’ is one of motorsports’ most prestigious honors and almost a race within a race. I cannot wait to see this expanded format on the final Sunday before Race Day.” 

Running For The Pole Bigger For TV Audience Than Bumping

This format shows that the race for the pole position at Indy is a bigger story for NBC Sports than Bumping. Why you may ask? Well just look at the schedule. If there was going to be any bumping, it was going to take place on Peacock. The two rounds for the pole are each on NBC.

Where this is big is, it’s a further shift away from bumping. Some years, bumping could overshadow the actual run to a pole. 1995 comes to mind. So does the year of Fernando Alonso and McLaren getting bumped by Kyle Kaiser and Juncos. So does James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann getting bumped out. Last year you had Will Power and Paretta Autosport both in the shootout to make the race.

This year, the drama is squarely around the fight for the pole again. If you get Jimmie Johnson and/or Romain Grosjean making a run at the pole on Sunday, this move pays off largely.

Can Colton Herta score a 2nd straight front row starting spot? Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Pressure Packed

It’s always tense when you walk up to the qualifying line at Indy, but this year it will even more be. With expanding from 9 cars to 12 to have a shot at the pole on Sunday, you’ll make multiple attempts on Saturday to get inside the top 4 Rows. In recent years, the Fast 9 was one thing, but going back a full row opens the door for more qualifiers to get in. I mean the deficit from say 22nd to 12th is much smaller than say 15th to 9th. The cars closer to midpack are separated by much smaller margins.

So, if you’re maybe around 20th after your first run, you know a few small tweaks allows you to get into the Top 12. In the past, you really were never going to make up that much ground to get into the Fast 9. It opens that door now.

In turn, I think you emphasize more qualifying runs on Saturday as a result. Why not get yourself into the Top 12? It’s more exposure for your brand and sponsors on Sunday because 13th to 30th are set and won’t likely even get on track at all on Sunday.

Saturday Will Be Easier For Guys With Top Speeds Though Too

One factor to this is, the drivers who sit in the top couple of rows after the first time through the line may not have a very busy day after. With expanding to 12 cars, the fear of dropping that far is slim to none. I don’t see that many cars improving that much to not only bump their ways in, but to do so onto a spot on the provisional front row.

So, in theory, if you have a good first qualifying run, you can likely park it for the day after.

This Helps Both Manufacturers

Look, the TV point is huge. More teams on network TV running for the pole the better for those said teams and sponsors. By adding 3 more spots, you add the potential for more teams/manufacturers to the mix.

Take last year as an example. Out of the 9 cars in the Fast 9, 4 were from Ganassi, 2 from ECR, 2 from Andretti and 1 from Meyer Shank. Expand to 12 you add AMSP and a Coyne car as well as another from Andretti.

If you go back to 2020, out of the 18 Fast Nine spots, 6 of them came from Andretti, 5 Ganassi, 3 from ECR, 2 at RLL, 1 at DCR and 1 at MSR. It’s basically the same teams and most are Honda’s.

By expanding, you get Chevy a chance with Penske and AMSP joining the front with ECR. That’s the balance we’re looking for since more times than not recently, you get split fields in qualifying.

Honda had 9 of the top 11 spots last year. They took 11 of the top 12 in 2020. However, the bowties in 2019 came to play in qualifying with 7 of the top 12 including 5 of the top 6 qualifiers. They had 9 of the top 12 in 2018 and took the top 2 qualifying spots.

2017 was back to Honda with 10 of the top 13 qualifiers.

The last evenly matched year was 2016 with 5 Honda’s and 4 Chevy’s. This new way helps both manufacturers.


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