INDIANAPOLIS — Testing? Check. Practice? Check. Now, it’s time to set the lineup for next Sunday’s 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). 33 spots are available. With each of the last 4 winners of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing coming from the top 8 spots, qualifying is as important now as ever before.
So, who gets into the Fast 12 on Saturday?
Chevrolet had the preferred power in this race in 2018 and again in 2019. They’ve swept the front row both years. In 2020, Honda swept the front row and took 11 of the top 12 starting spots. Last year, it was more Honda in taking 7 of the 9 spots into the Fast 9 and 9 of the top 11 overall.
How much can Chevy close the gap back up and how much can Honda gain or even lose was a big question entering this month.
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.
So, who makes it in?
I don’t think you can discredit any of the five Ganassi cars. They have missed the Fast Nine five times in the last nine years but they had also put all four cars in the Shootout just last year. From 2012 through 2016 though, they failed to make the Fast Nine four times in a five year span. They put two cars in the Shootout in 2017, two in 2018 but were shutout again in 2019. In 2020 Scott Dixon was their lone bullet in their chamber as he’d start second.
ECR has put at least one car in the Fast Nine for nine straight years now.
Penske is the story though. They had at least one car in the Fast Nine for 10 straight years. They’re 0-for-2 since though. In 2020, Penske qualified 13-22-25-28. Last year they went 17-21-26-32. They put three cars in the Fast 9 in 2010, one in 2011, three more in 2012 and 2013, four in 2014, three in 2015 and 2016, one in 2017, all four in 2018 and three in 2019. To get shutout for two straight years in glaring.
Power, was 11-for-11 in Fast Nine appearance here with Penske coming into 2020. He’s 0-for-2 since. He’s scored 64 poles, the second most all-time. When he’s not qualifying well here, there’s a problem.
Helio Castroneves went 228.373 mph in 2020 for them and one year later with a new team in Meyer Shank Racing, he goes 231.164 mph. That’s all you need to know for performance.
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing qualified on the last row in each of the last three years here.
We’ve also seen an odd trend for Indianapolis 500 qualifying lately and that’s the sense that we’ve seen five different drivers from five different teams earn the pole for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing in the last six years.
From James Hinchcliffe (SPM) in 2016 to Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) in 2021, we’ve had new drivers each year with the exception of one. Dixon (Ganassi) in 2017, Ed Carpenter (ECR) in 2018 and Simon Pagenaud (Penske) in 2019 and Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport) were the others in this span here.
If this continues, who’s next?
Well, AJ Foyt Racing (JR Hildebrand, Dalton Kellett, Kyle Kirkwood), Juncos Hollinger Racing (Callum Ilott), Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (Sage Karam, Santino Ferrucci), Dale Coyne Racing (David Malukas, Takuma Sato), Meyer/Shank Racing (Simon Pageanud, Helio Castroneves) or Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (Graham Rahal, Jack Harvey, Christian Lundgaard) would be the only ones left.
Foyt’s won 45 Indy Car poles hasn’t won one since 2014 at Long Beach. Their last Indy pole came by Billy Boat in 1998. RLL has 33 poles, the last coming in Aug. 2020 at the World Wide Technology Raceway, but their last Indy pole came in 2004 from Buddy Rice.
Dale Coyne Racing has 3 career poles, none at Indy on the oval with their last one other than Romain Grosjean’s last year on the road course coming in 2018 at Phoenix. Same for DRR with two poles, none at Indy with their last coming in 2002.
JHR and MSR have never won Indy Car poles before.
If this trend continues, RLL is the favorites among them.
Chip Ganassi Racing (5) – I think they get all 5 into the Shootout
Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing (2) – Takuma Sato, David Malukas
Andretti Autosport (1) – Colton Herta
Team Penske (1) – I’ll go with Will Power as the lone representative
Ed Carpenter Racing (2) – Ed Carpenter, Rinus VeeKay
Arrow McLaren SP (1) – Pato O’Ward