The starting grid is set following a weekend of practice, qualifying and the “bump day” for the Indianapolis 500. However, the “bump day” could have simply been labeled “Qualifying, The Sequel”. There were 9 spots to fill out the starting grid and 9 teams/cars going for it so there would be no actual “bump” from the race.
The top tier has shaped up as a veteran vs veteran for race teams. The top six qualifiers filling out the first and second rows are from the Penske and Andretti teams. These same teams fill out the top four spots in the points coming to Indy with Penske at 1-2 while Andretti is in at 3-4.
Will Power has dominated with Verizon/Penske Chevrolet bringing 3 wins of the 4 races along for the ride. Team mate Helio Castroneves is 2nd in points winning that 4th giving Penske a season sweep so far.
Now, Ryan Briscoe takes Penske to the pole for the Indy 500. Power and Castroneves are in the second row in the 5th and 6th starting positions.
The Andretti teams have been pushing and finishing with top 5 / top 10 finishes so far but haven’t been able to crack the checkers. It is good enough to chase Penske in the points but not so much to pass them.
It’s a bit like Honda vs Chevrolet. Honda was, for several years, the only engine in IndyCar. This year Chevy and Lotus are running in the mix. Chevy, however, has come in and kicked it. They are leading in points with Penske and Andretti and coming into the Indy 500 they fill all but one slot of the top 10 starting positions. Rookie Josef Newgarden snuck the Dollar General/Sarah Fisher Hartman Honda into the 6th starting slot.
The drivers are still getting a handle on the new car design as the Indy 500 comes together. The newer chassis accommodates a wider body shell partially enclosing the rear wheels. The design is supposed to reduce the tire-touch issues in close racing which can result in launching one or both cars. Marco Andretti somehow managed it at Long Beach. Fortunately, the car came down on the wheels rather than flipping on over.
Safety is tops on the agenda for IndyCar following the crash and death of Dan Wheldon last year.
Coming to Indy marks the season highlight for the series. Penske is set to continue their winning season. The Andretti drivers are pushing to make a run for it. Ganassi has been hit or miss so far. Defending champion Dario Franchitti has been struggling.
The race is on and is shaping up to be a good show. It will be interesting to see if the glitz and glitter of the “Indy” can carry some excitement forward to the rest of the season. With the field open and Penske racing making big moves it could be a run to see who can take the championship from Franchitti.
We saw NASCAR take a bit of a hit while Jimmie Johnson was dominating. If the series can challenge Franchitti’s dominance, perhaps the fans will show interest. We’ll see. In the meantime, let’s go to Indy!