Random Thoughts on Qualifying

The original plan for us was to stay for qualifying on Sunday, but then leave during the afternoon practice. Then when it looked like yesterday would be a washout, we planned to leave around 3:00. But then it stopped raining and it brightened up. So we were stuck. I couldn’t think of anything worse than hanging around here all week, then leaving at 3:00 and listening to the Last Row Shootout on the radio as we approach Louisville.

Although I’m not a fan of this new qualifying format, I have to admit that I have found it entertaining – at least the last hour on Saturday. But I do have a problem with one aspect. Am I the only one that had a problem with Graham Rahal being the last run of the day? That’s no knock on Graham, he was doing what the rules allowed and it worked out for him. He was twenty-seventh when he went out and improved his starting spot by ten spots.

But I would make the last hour of this format be restricted to drivers that were currently in the tenth row. Granted he was one spot from the tenth row, but when he went out with roughly five minutes remaining, he was in no danger of being bumped into the Last Row Shootout for Sunday.

I also don’t care for a one-time shot for the back row. I know they do that for the Fast Nine, but I maintain there is more at stake for making the race, than making the pole. I’ve been here all week and no one has been speculating about the pole. It’s been wondering who will go home. Then once we learned who the Slow Six were, speculation has centered on who may not make it.

But the skies cleared and they were able to get it in.

What was more exciting; that Simon Pagenaud won the pole from Ed Carpenter or that Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing knocked McLaren and Fernando Alonso from the Indianapolis 500? The team that had everything stacked against them pulled off the impossible. As big a story as it was for Pippa Mann and Clauson Marshall Racing to be locked into the field on Saturday, Juncos knocking out McLaren is even bigger.

The last row is made up of Sage Karam, James Hinchcliffe and Kaiser. While all the attention was on Kyle Kaiser, James Hinchcliffe and Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports deserve a lot of credit. You know they were thinking “Oh no, not again” overnight Saturday night. But he put four very consistent laps and put it in the field. Sage Karam was surprisingly the quickest of the Last Row qualifiers.

Of course, everyone’s biggest fear came true. The failed time posted on Sunday by Fernando Alonso was faster than the speed that locked Pippa Mann into the field on Saturday – so the fastest thirty-three are not in the field. Let the gnashing begin!

Oh, and by the way – Simon Pagenaud is on the pole and Ed Carpenter and Spencer Pigot make up the front row.

TV Coverage: I was in the media center for quite a bit throughout the week and I was able to get to see and hear some of the coverage on NBC Sports Gold. I know some are still griping about having to pay, but if you are boycotting – you aren’t hurting anyone but yourself. Their production was fantastic! No offense to the IMS Radio Network, but they are for radio only – not television.

Tip of the cap to the hardest working man in sports – Kevin Lee, who has been pulling marathons with seven hour stints on the air with no commercial breaks. And he did an outstanding job at that.

Tenderloin Alert: On Friday, they had the concession stands on the outside of the track open for the first time. As I always do, I checked out their menus to see if any of them offered the Classic Jumbo Tenderloin. I finally found one under the Paddock stand and tweeted out a picture of it and the location (just south of the pedestrian tunnel). Saturday, I went there to buy one for lunch.


What a disappointment! What had for years been a well-seasoned and irregularly shaped piece of pounded pork, was now a perfectly round disc of processed meat coated in flavorless breading. I ate about two-thirds of it before tossing it into the trash. Between that and the abomination they sell behind The Pagoda, I’m afraid the days of eating a tasty tenderloin at IMS may be behind us.

Stay Off of the Wall: Is it a coincidence that everyone who crashed early in the week struggled to qualify on Saturday? Fernando Alonso, Felix Rosenqvist, Pato O’Ward, Kyle Kaiser and James Hinchcliffe all tore up their cars either during the week or on their initial qualifying run. Rosenqvist was the only driver to be locked in on Saturday, and he qualified twenty-ninth out of thirty.

The others made up the “Slow Six” along with Max Chilton and Sage Karam, who were both in their primary cars all week. I think it’s pretty easy to draw conclusions that it is devastating to a team to wad up their primary car. I miss the days of CART, when most teams had a complete backup car waiting in the wings complete with an installed engine.

Mario Overload: In case you have not heard, this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Mario Andretti’s lone win in the Indianapolis 500. It is right that The Speedway should celebrate the milestone. But compared to similar fiftieth anniversaries, is IMS going a little overboard?

Last year was the fiftieth anniversary of Bobby Unser’s first win, but I don’t recall the Rislone Special gracing the front of last year’s program like Mario’s 1969 Brawner Hawk does this year.


Nor do I remember a Bobby Unser store in the Pagoda Plaza last year when we were celebrating his fiftieth.


I suppose one could argue that the Foyt celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of his 1967 win was subdued because it was one of his four, and Unser’s was the first of his three – while Mario just had the one. But it still seems like there is a lot more hoopla over Mario than there was for Foyt and Unser combined over the last two years.

All in all: First of all, this has been one unforgettable week. I said last Tuesday that I would give an honest assessment of if I would recommend doing this. The answer is a resounding YES! Due to my job situation and having vacation time to burn, this was a special situation to do something I’ve always wanted to do. Now that I’ve done it, I want to do it again. Even if I have to take time without pay, I’ll do it.

But the story of the Month of May is Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing knocking off one of the most powerful racing teams in the world. I’m not sure I would want to be Zak Brown right now. I’m not sure that whoever he answers to is completely sold on this IndyCar endeavor. It would not surprise me if he soon went the way of Ron Dennis after this disaster.

But have we heard the end of McLaren and Alonso? Word has it that they are making offers to several teams in the paddock to buy a qualified car. I know it’s in the rules, but I don’t like it and I hope it doesn’t happen. In the press conference, McLaren’s Gil de Ferran insisted that wouldn’t happen – they want to earn their way in.

Other than Alonso, the biggest loser in all of this may be Max Chilton. Three of the four cars that Carlin is associated with are headed home. If it weren’t for Charlie Kimball, they would have been shutout. For the second straight year, a full-time IndyCar team is going home. I’m sorry, but those are the breaks. That’s what makes this race so special.

But congratulations to Simon Pagenaud, Kyle Kaiser, Pippa Mann, James Hinchcliffe, Sage Karam and all of the teams and drivers who beat the odds and made the race.

I’ll close with a poll question following a few more photos that Susan got on Sunday on pit lane and by thanking everyone who followed us along this weekend and on my big adventure doing the week. But the month continues tomorrow. And the rest of this week, so please remember to come here every day through the race.

George Phillips





Kaiser in car





the rahals



pags win

pags Pess

Penske Pags

Alonso Press

15 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Qualifying”

  1. I’m thought the weekend was phenomenal. The format worked and created a bunch of drama which INDYCAR wanted and hyped. The speeds within the field are so close right now. It was great seeing Kaiser get into the field, especially with losing 2 major sponsors before the race weekend. Sucks for McLaren but I’d rather see them commit to a full season of effort. Not a one off weekend. Maybe Gil should have the team race at Pocono to test more for super speedway racing. It won’t happen but wouldn’t be a bad idea since the field is usually 24-25 cars.

    Sorry to hear the Pork tenderloin was bad. Always look forward to your race weekend posts!

  2. new qualifying generally worked, especially for the television folks. could use some tweaking I suppose. I’m boycotting Penske right now but man, I thought his three cars looked sharp, even the matte black. happy for kaiser and juncos. hope alonzo comes back though. it probably sounds funny to people, george, when you name your favorite vacation spot as Indianapolis. I’m solidly in the ‘no guaranteed spots” camp and now I have to join the “save the Indy tenderloin” rebellion too.

  3. S0CSeven Says:

    So ….. you wad up your primary car ….. end up in the slow six …… qualify faster than row 32 drivers ……. and you’re still out.

    No, there’s something terribly wrong here and always has been.

    If this qualifying lunacy is to continue at least make it a shootout for the final 2 or 3 rows. Not just 1.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I think “terribly wrong” is a bit much. McLaren and Alonso took 4-5 shots (I lost track) at being faster than someone on row 32 on Saturday and couldn’t do it. Seems like they had a plenty fair shot at making the race.

    • If spots are going to be locked into the field on one day you are probably not going to get the fastest 33. Conditions change and the track may be much faster the next day. rules are rules, but this does need some tweaks.

  4. “Of course, everyone’s biggest fear came true. The failed time posted on Sunday by Fernando Alonso was faster than the speed that locked Pippa Mann into the field on Saturday – so the fastest thirty-three are not in the field. Let the gnashing begin!”

    Not only that, but again the driver who was fastest on Saturday did not get the Pole.

    A day that will live in infamy.

    The surprise of the weekend for me was all the track activity on Saturday. More than traditionally. But not enough for me to accept these rules over the old. Need Pole Day on Saturday and Bump Day on Sunday. We took a small step to restoring Saturday this year. Lets make the big leap and finish it next year.

    Really missed Tom Carnegie more this year than ever. The two guys doing the announcing at the track were harder to understand. Seemed like they talked too quick and lacked the timing that was always so perfect.

    I DVR’ed the broadcast yesterday and watched a little of it. Looks like there is no prize money any more for the fastest driver on Fast Friday. It was only $10,000 but it meant something. That, along with the sale of Clabber Girl, does make me wonder about the financial health of the Hulman family.

  5. I know this format is supposed to be horrible and will bring the end of the Indianapolis 500 as we know it….but damned if that wasn’t the most exciting and suspenseful qualifying weekend I’ve ever seen. People wanted drama, we got drama by the truckful.

    “What was more exciting; that Simon Pagenaud won the pole from Ed Carpenter or that Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing knocked McLaren and Fernando Alonso from the Indianapolis 500?”

    Sorry to disagree, but if the drivers in the last row shootout had more than one chance then the excitement we got of Kaiser/Juncos knocking off the legendary McLaren might not have happened. I say keep it as one-shot only, they had all day Saturday to make the show and if they weren’t good enough they get one last hail mary to get in. Isn’t that what “Indy is supposed to be about”? No handouts, no second chances, either get it done or go home. I like it.

  6. A crazy weekend for sure! Coverage was great, though I miss it being on TV 9 hours a day for 2 weekends, it’s nice that there is good quality production of it all for the first time in a long while.

    I did hate that the runs, especially the last row shootout, the production could do better to show where the car on the track is in relation to bumping in. I get to see RPMs and Speed but I want to see a real time ticker showing how close they are to the competition.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Very much agreed on that last paragraph. I thought the coverage was quite good overall but NBC largely failed to use the on-screen graphics to convey where the car on track was on pace to qualify. About mid-Saturday, the sliding tracker graphic that would show where a car was on pace to qualify started giving inaccurate readings and they stopped showing it (one of Karam’s failed attempts incorrectly showed him having qualified 28th). It was especially frustrating late on Saturday when nearly every car going out was trying to ensure a place in the top 30 and instead of showing the speeds at the bottom of grid that the drivers going out were realistically shooting to top, they kept the top 10 frozen at the top of the list on the right side of the screen and often used the rest of the space to show the car on track’s telemetry. At the very least, keeping the bubble speed on screen during those late runs would have helped quite a bit.

      I say this all in the interest of constructive criticism. NBC did a nice job with the broadcast, but they could have done even better. An occasionally-appearing graphic showing who is in each qualifying line would be a welcome addition as well.

  7. Bruce Waine Says:

    Once again we have observed & been reminded……..

    And …the….. winner…. is ………………… The Weather ! !

    Prepare your entry as well as you might…………..

    Lest we forget to pay credence to and keep in the back of our memory that ever present ghostly specter – that it is the Weather (wind, breeze, rain, showers, overcast, partly cloudy, sunny, temperature, etc., etc.) that continues to rule INDY…………………….

  8. Bruce B Says:

    George, I’m a bit surprised by your comment about the fastest 33 not in the field. Pippa’s time Saturday was faster than Alonso’s multiple attempts. Qualifiers on different days/conditions has always occurred. The pole winner has not always had the fastest time several times over the years…….Mario mania?? The Speedway is doing it because he sells merchandise for them. And what an ambassador for Indy car racing! Of course they could have given away hammers on AJ Foyt day, to commemorate when he went banging away on the linkage. As Jim McCay once said……”Mario Andretti, perhaps the greatest driver of our time!” 😉

  9. I think to grow IndyCar it needs to show Indy 500 qualifying on “regular” TV to reach out to more people who may become fans by watching it on regular NBC

  10. Randy Holbrook Says:

    I have to disagree strongly with your praise for NBC Gold. While I don’t mind too much having to pay for it, I had a huge issue with it over the weekend. I was away on a fishing trip and made a point of staying off social media to avoid any spoilers, thinking I could catch up on everything Sunday night. To my surprise the only thing on NBC Gold from Sunday was the rain shortened morning practice. Absolutely nothing for the last row or fast 9. I then saw that a replay was listed on the regular NBC Watch listings but when I clicked on it I got an “Initializing” message and a beautiful shot of the spinning wheel of death. I tried to watch it on multiple devices with no luck. The NBC INDYCAR Pass as I remembered it being advertised was supposed to show every on track session for the month of May – it doesn’t. Luckily I had set my DVR and got to catch up Monday Night and the coverage was great. I could do without Danica’s “when I was here” commentary and I just find her really unlikable. I know why they have her there but I wish they had gone with someone like Dario or Jon Beekhuis. Why is it that when a sport tries to grow they usually do it by ruining the product? I was really excited when NBC got full rights because I always enjoyed their coverage but then they immediately start reaching out to the Danica’s and Dale Jr’s…Rant over. Hope to see you next weekend!

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