It’s perhaps the second-most important weekend on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule: the two-day stretch of qualifying sessions that set the grid for the Indianapolis 500.
This weekend is extra special, though, as bumping returns to the event for the first time since 2011. With 35 teams, buoyed by nearly a dozen Indy-only combinations, set to go for the traditional 33 spots later today, two quality drivers will go home empty-handed. With first and last place on Friday’s no-tow practice chart separated by less than a second, it’ll be a tough field to crack for those who have been struggling to find speed.
Qualifying runs all day on Saturday, with all 70 entries (including backup cars) drawing their positions in the running order on Friday afternoon. As we figure out who will earn a spot in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and who will sit on the sidelines, here are the biggest things to watch out for:
How will effectively reversing Bump Day and Pole Day affect the spectacle of qualifying?
Here’s how this weekend works: all 35 drivers will qualify on Saturday to lock into the field of 33, with the two slowest drivers sent home overnight. Then, on Sunday, the majority of the field will qualify in the early afternoon, with the first three rows set toward the end of the session. Not having that last-gasp run at the very end of the two-day process obviously is a major change for 500 qualifying, but if we’ve got a proper pole shootout on our hands on Sunday night, it may not matter all that much.
Where will familiar faces in one-off rides slot into the field?
Oriol Servia was best of the one-offs in overall practice speeds on Fast Friday, ranking fourth in his Scuderia Corsa/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ride. Danica Patrick, running the third Ed Carpenter Racing car, topped the Indy-only entries in no-tow practice speeds, ranking just behind her teammates in seventh. Conor Daly’s T car is actually first on the blind draw for today’s qualifying order, but Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves drew eighth in his primary car and should be the first of the group to qualify.
How will sticking with the traditional field of 33 affect the size of future 500 entry lists?
The racing landscape is very different from what it was decades ago, when enough cars would sometimes show up to Indianapolis to run two separate 500s. In this day and age, many have expressed concern about sending anybody home, not wanting to cut off the series’ growth after the recent influx of new owners. But the importance of the 33-car field has been well established; could the cutoff have the opposite effect, adding prestige and inspiring more upstarts to try to claw their way onto the 2019 grid?