5 storylines/things I’m watching for Sunday’s Shootouts to set the field for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS — 18 spots to next Sunday’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 are filled. 15 are left to still be set. At 2 p.m. ET, the Firestone Fast 12 Shootout will commence. That will set the lineup for spots 7-12 with the fastest six among the 12 advancing to the Firestone Fast Six (5 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network).

At 4 p.m. ET on NBC will be the Last Row Shootout. 4 drivers enter for 3 spots. 1 goes home.

At 5 p.m. ET will end the day with the Fast 6 Shootout which sets spots 1-6. Here are my top storylines I’m watching on Sunday.

Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon has almost every accolade one could get at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Most laps led, fastest pole speed, you name it and he’s done it. While he has just one Indy 500 victory, he does have five poles though. That ranks him second on the all-time Indy 500 poles list. His next pole will tie him with Rick Mears for most all-time.

Does that come on Sunday? Dixon is in the Fast 12 Shootout as he qualified twice on Saturday with his best four-lap average being 233.375 mph. That was good enough for fifth.

“Yeah, if it happens, it happens,” Rick Mears said of Dixon potentially breaking his record. “That’s the old saying, records are meant to be broken.

“Obviously would I like to hang on to it? Sure. But if he gets it, he’s earned it. The job he’s done to be able to get to that position, I definitely respect that.

“In one respect I’d be happy for him for the job he’s been doing, but in another respect I’d rather keep it.”

Dixon has won each of the last two poles for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and if he can win a pole again this weekend, it would not only tie him for first with Mears, but he’s also become the first driver to win the pole here in three consecutive years.

Mears won four in a six-year span (1986, 1988, 1989, 1991). Helio Castroneves won 3 of his 4 Indy poles in a four years span (2007, 2009, 2010). No one has done so consecutively.

Dixon can.

“Yeah, that’s the goal,” he says. “We’re here to try and capture the pole. If it’s not myself, hopefully it’s one of my teammates. I think the cars have definitely been very fast.

“As a team, I think the pole is a big deal. The amount of effort that goes into it and the small tweaks and adjustments and everything for this race, for this weekend for the pole is very special. So it’s very rewarding, and it’s always great for the team.

“I think last year to have all of us in the hunt for it was very special, as well, and I’d say kind of looking at the last couple of days, the car has definitely had speed. We’ll have to see if that plays true come tomorrow and Sunday.

“But yeah, it would be amazing.

“But for me the focus right now is to do the best we can to try and capture that pole.”

He’s also qualified on the front row in three straight years though too as he was also the second qualifier in 2020. He was 10th on the four-lap average chart on Friday.

Will Power during practice for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Will Power

No one has won as many NTT INDYCAR SERIES poles in the history of the sport than Will Power. The Team Penske driver is a 68-time pole winner as he set that new record in the 2022 season finale at Laguna Seca.

With two series championships, a Indy 500 triumph and now being the pole king, what more is there left to accomplish for the 42-year-old? Well an Indy 500 pole for starters.

Despite 68 career poles, none of which have come in the year’s biggest race. He’s 0-for-15.

“Man we we’ve done everything we can to get qualifying speed there’s not at the end of the day, you’re at the mercy of the speed of the car simply,” Power told me. “Then you’ve just got to put downforce to match.

“Honestly, it has you have to have the car. You have to have that that you have to have cars capable of doing it then it’s up to you to how much you want to trim. But unless you have that you just simply so you know, just at the mercy of what you want what car it is. Because very finicky here, you can just have a fast car and it can be the best of the team. They’re all built the same. One just slightly faster. So I would be waiting to have that car for many years. I’ve had it been close then. Yeah. Been on the front row. But yeah, yeah, it’d be nice.

“Like to get for flat out lap so team has worked I’d say last three years extremely hard on that. So we’re hoping to get all cars and the top 12 this year and closer to the front, but obviously it matters in the race because I got the top 12 and went all the way back to last with a loose car so I think I think we’re all pretty keen for a good run this month.”

Will Power during practice for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

At one point, Power made the Fast 9 in 11 straight years here, including four front row starting spots (2010, 2014, 2015, 2018), but none of those resulted in a pole. He’s finished 14th or worse in 4 of the last 6 Indy 500 starts.

Is this the year?

Power was seventh on the overall speed charts this week before Fast Friday and turned in the second quickest no tow lap on Thursday. Power was fourth on the four-lap average chart on Fast Friday. He then was 12th on Saturday to narrowly squeak by to the Shootout for the second straight year.

“Yeah, we’ve worked extremely hard in the off-season development-wise,” said Power on Fast Friday. “Just sort of two days in of running I feel like we’re in a pretty good place, definitely in race work.

“The no-tow laps look good right now, but you never sort of can rely on that. I think today we’ll get a pretty good idea of where we stack up pace-wise.

“There’s so many good team-driver combinations now, people — all these teams turn up, they just improve every year, and the car doesn’t change. So there’s a ceiling.

“I think Ganassi was the top, and everyone is sort of getting up there now. I think it’s going to be one of the tightest qualifyings in history here, especially to get in the top 12.

“I think we’ve done the work and I think Chevy has improved a bit, and I’m really hoping all three of us are in that top 12, and if everything goes really well, fighting for a pole.”

Will RLL Miss The Show?

Eight days after Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing took the pole with Christian Lundgaard, a fourth place start by Jack Harvey and eighth place opportunity with Graham Rahal for the GMR Grand Prix, they’re facing the very real possibility that one of those three won’t be racing in the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 eight days from now.

All that momentum. All that talk. It was all for not. There’s a very real risk that one of the Rahal cars will be left on the outside looking in tomorrow night.

Bobby Rahal was famously bumped from the field in 1993. 30 years later, his son may be left out. Having Katherine Legge in is nice and all, but it comes at the expense that a full-time car won’t make the race and it could be one of RLL’s.

Lundgaard was only 32nd, 27th and 32nd across the three days. He was 30th on the four-lap average on Friday and the best he could do on Saturday was 231.056 mph. Luckily, that’s tops among the four outside right now.

Jack Harvey was 28th, 21st and 31st this week and was 32nd on the four-lap average. He blew an engine with 10 minutes remaining in Friday’s practice too. Harvey’s best four-lap average on Saturday was 230.098 mph which was 32nd.

Graham Rahal was 23rd, 12th and 33rd on single lap speed and 31st on the four-lap average chart. He just had no speed on Saturday (228.526 mph). That was last (34th).

In the open test, RLL went 23rd (Rahal), 26th (Lundgaard), 28th (Harvey) and 31st (Katherine Legge). Last year, they had 2 of the bottom 3 qualifiers (Lundgaard 31st, Harvey 32nd) and earlier this season in Texas, they qualified 24th, 27th and 28th out of 28 cars.

They’re in very serious trouble here.

Sting Ray Robb went 229.955 mph in his No. 51 Dallara-Honda on Saturday. Where this is big is for Leaders Circle money. Missing the race would be a massive loss for one of these four teams.

Robb’s No. 51 entry sits 26th in entrant points (-9) to 22nd (the last spot for money). Harvey’s car is +2 on the entrant points spot. Rahal is +35 and Lundgaard +60.

Tony Kanaan practicing his No. 66 Dallara-Chevrolet for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Can Kanaan Snag A Pole?

Tony Kanaan has been doing this for a while now. Next Sunday will mark his 22nd and final Indianapolis 500. For TK, the 48-year-old still has a shot at another feat ahead. Kanaan is going for the pole on Sunday.

The popular Brazilian driver was in, then out, then not quick enough, then back in with a four-lap average of 233.347 mph in his No. 66 Dallara-Chevrolet on Saturday. That was sixth quick. He’ll have a shot at his second career Indy 500 pole on Sunday afternoon.

“We started the day a little bit more conservative,” Kanaan admitted. “We just kept digging. I need to thank definitely my teammates for it. They’re all in. They kept supporting me, asking me, You got to do it again, you got to do it again.

“We finally on the last run nailed it. Great team effort. It was nice. It was unexpected, especially I don’t think I’ve ever done that many qualify attempts in this place. I guess because it’s my last one they kept sending me out, so it paid off (smiling).”

Kanaan has all four Arrow McLaren Racing teammates with him in the Shootout as well as all four of his former teammates at Chip Ganassi Racing too.

Kanaan was in the Shootout in 2021 and qualified sixth. Last year he was back and was fifth. Can he improve just that little bit more?

“Yeah, I mean, I guess, but I never doubted I could still drive,” he said. “To come back next year, the following year. But I think it’s time. I have other goals, other projects that I want to pursue.

“Every year, let’s face it, it gets tougher and tougher. I had a really good year last year, then I got this opportunity. Once I did that, I was like, Hmm, maybe let me call it before somebody else decides that.

“I’m not leaving or quitting INDYCAR racing because I don’t think I’m competitive or anything like that. I just think it’s time. I love being with the team. I’m enjoying other parts of somehow a new role. I still get to race all the type of cars.

“Yeah, I mean, I’m okay with the decision. I am not coming back, so people keep making fun of me.”

Santino Ferrucci practices his No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Who Can Improve?

Last year Scott Dixon went from 10th on Saturday to first on Sunday to score his second straight Indy 500 pole and fifth overall. Does anyone of the 12 left have anything left to make that jump?

“Yeah, we’ll make a couple of changes,” Alex Palou told me. “Motorsport is about improving. Feels like it’s limitless. We can go the other way, but we’ll keep trying.”

You almost have to in this sport. You can never rest on your laurels.

“I think it’s pretty tight,” Tony Kanaan said of the field. “I’m talking about it because I’ve driven a Honda a year ago, then I switched. I really think both manufacturers have advantages and disadvantages in some areas.

“I really think it’s pretty tight. It’s not like we are holding things up. We did not. Maybe we did a better job at ballast. If we look at how tight this field is, how many attempts of qualifying, how close we were.

“One thing I would love people to realize, if you would convert that to lap time, you will see how close it really is. I don’t see it. But I’m not good at math so…”

One driver not making a change is Santino Ferrucci. He says he’s having a good dinner and going to be.

“Driving the same car tomorrow. Nothing I’m changing,” he told me.

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