Much like NASCAR made drastic changes to its qualifying process, the Indianapolis 500 rules will be completely different this year.
Since 1939, the Indy 500 has involved four-lap qualifying runs and introduced The Fast Nine Shootout in 2010 to change things up. In an attempt to rekindle fan support leading up to the pivotal race, IndyCar restructured the format to make the event more enticing.
Three rounds of qualifying will take place over two days, with the final winner gaining the coveted spot on the front row. The event will start on Saturday at 4 p.m. and take place yet again on Sunday at 1 p.m., with the final event being on what IndyCar calls Pole Day.
As qualifying nears for the historic race, here's a look at the full schedule for the two-day event and a breakdown of the process taking place at The Brickyard.
Indy 500 Qualifying Information
Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
When: Saturday, May 17 at 4 p.m.; Sunday, May 18 at 1 p.m.
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Another change in the qualifying round is that points will be awarded, per the Associated Press. Though the amount of points is undisclosed at this time, it adds yet another incentive for the drivers to perform at their highest level.
As for who might be in contention to take the entire event, one notable name has been near the top of the leaderboard. Helio Castroneves took the top time in practice this week, per MotorSports Talk:
The Team Penske driver has three Indy 500 wins to his name and is looking to tie A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears with four victories at the track. While Castroneves has dominated in the past, the new changes might have an impact on the driver.
One driver that is especially fond of the new change is Graham Rahal, according to the AP:
The most important thing to realize here is we have to give our fans a better product both on TV and at track. As we know Sunday in the past has been a moot point. Now I think there's going to be quite a bit of buildup Saturday, see who the 33 will be, then go into Sunday and wait till the very end to see who the pole winner is going to be.
I'm pretty excited for the changes that are ahead. Of course, I am a traditionalist, but I'm always one that's open for change as well.
While Rahal might be excited about the updated format, things got a lot more difficult for NASCAR driver Kurt Busch. The 2004 Sprint Cup champion is looking to do double duty as he participates in the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 in the same day.
Unfortunately, that means he'll also have to participate in qualifying at The Brickyard on Saturday before making the trek out to Charlotte for the All-Star Race. Busch will then have to fly back to Indy on Sunday for the final round of qualifying.
Busch spoke about his experience in qualifying, via the Associated Press:
It was a nice rookie day to go play in traffic. It's exciting because every corner is different and you have to remember where each of those moments were from the lap before. Things are moving quickly at 220 and that's with just a few cars
Driving two events in one day is never easy for a racer, especially when the two events total 1,100 miles. But if any driver can do it, The Outlaw will find a way to excel on both circuits.
With excitement already boiling over for the race to start, qualifying is sure to be nearly as suspenseful over the weekend.
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