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Opening Weekend for the Indianapolis 500 Preview

Eric SmithCorrespondent IIIMay 13, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 23:  The #3 Team Penske Dallara Honda of Helio Castroneves sits next to the #12 Team Penske Dallara Honda of Will Power during practice for the IZOD IndyCar Series 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 23, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

This year’s action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be better than it’s ever been as teams try and prepare themselves for the centennial race.  With opening day scheduled for tomorrow, teams will only have one week to get the right set-up to qualify for the race next weekend.

With the threat of rain looming over this weekend and into early next week, it’s not going to give teams much time to prepare.  40 drivers are on the entry list as of now, and the slightest margin of error on a set-up or line around the track will put you on the outside looking in.

Pole Day runs from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm on May 21st, and when the clock strikes four on that day, the top-24 fastest cars are locked into running in the Indy 500. At 4:30 pm the top nine cars run in the Firestone Fast Nine and have three shots at winning the pole position. With everyone wanting their chance at driving in the 100th running of the Indy 500, this year’s Pole Day will be absolutely amazing.  The drama and intensity around getting one of those 24 spots will be insurmountable. Not to mention, the pole winner will get the fame and recognition as the fastest qualifier and pole sitter for the 100th year of the Speedway.

If there is any day that you do not want to miss at the track this year, it is Bump Day. The excitement that will surround this day will be something indescribable, with more drama unfolding  around each twist and turn.

As of today, the car count vying for those nine spots is 16, which means seven of those cars won’t be making it to the 500.  With the playing field so level and the gap between making the race and not making the race only a thousandth of a second, Bump Day will be very tense.

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Another factor to Bump Day is timing. Bump Day qualifications ends promptly at 6:00 pm, so once qualifying begins, look for the nine remaining spots to be filled quickly.  Of course nothing is set in stone for any of those nine drivers until the clock reaches six, which means 15 drivers will be worrying all day.

Once four o’clock comes around, teams will have to make a very dangerous decision: Should the driver hop in the qualifying line and make a run for it, or should he/she wait it out longer for a more ideal time?  Teams don’t want to gain a spot too early and then have to wait around to see if they get bumped out, due to the fact that the driver might not get a second chance to bump his/her way back in.  On the other hand, waiting too late can be just as detrimental. With so many people trying to get a spot, waiting means a driver could only get one shot, or even worse, no shot at all.

An equally stressful decision a driver/owner has to make is whether or not to take another shot at an even better, faster time once he/she already has a spot. This happened last year with Paul Tracy minutes before the close of Bump Day. He had already positioned himself to be in the race, but there was a driver practicing to qualify at much higher speeds. The only way to stop the upcoming driver from having a chance was for Tracy to withdraw his time and get right back in line. Due to time constraints, this would cut off anyone trying to go after him.

So that is what Tracy did. He withdrew his time, hopped in line and tried for a faster speed. Once his time was withdrawn, rookie Sebastian Saveedra, who previously wrecked in Turn 2 during practice and was taken to the hospital, was reinstated into the field by default.  All Tracy had to do was beat Saveedra’s time once again and he was back in the Indy 500.  Unfortunately, Tracy actually ended up slower and didn’t make the race. That risk proved to be costly, but in his words, he’d rather “go down swinging.”

There is no way for drivers to avoid the stress that comes with the qualifying days at the track, which is why this year’s Pole and Bump Days will be amazing. Every driver wants to be a part of the 100th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” and they will do anything and everything in their power to guarantee a solid spot in the field at 6:00 pm on pole day.

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