A Popular Front Row For The Indianapolis 500

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Amidst all the cries of sandbagging by Chevy and bemoaning the dreaded “domed skids”; Honda was the one puffing their chest out at the end of qualifying for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Not only was the day a vindication for Honda, but it was a feel-good story as James Hinchcliffe won the pole at the track that almost killed him a year ago. Nashville native Josef Newgarden was the fourth driver to make his run in the Fast Nine, and found his number at the top of the scoring pylon after an average four-lap average speed of 230.700. He survived challenges from the next four drivers, including a close call from Ryan Hunter-Reay. There was only one more driver to go and Newgarden would be on the pole for the Indianapolis 500. The trouble was, that challenge came from James Hinchcliffe – the fastest car from the day before.

Hinchcliffe ran four strong laps and knocked Newgarden off with an average speed of 230.760. Oddly enough, this is the first pole of any kind for Hinchcliffe in the Verizon IndyCar Series. His last pole came in Indy Lights in 2010 in Edmonton – a race he won. Credit Tony DiZinno of NBC Sports for quickly digging up that stat.

There are so many great story lines for what happened today. All week long, we heard how Chevrolet powered cars were sandbagging. We felt certain that they would certainly dominate Fast Friday. When that didn’t happen, most figured that they would bust Honda’s bubble in the run for the Fast Nine. When Honda placed five cars in the Fast Nine, suddenly the so-called experts were scratching their collective heads. After Honda looked strong in the earlier round of Sunday qualifying, it began to look like Chevy was primed for an upset for the pole.

As it turns out, Honda took two spots on the front row. Newgarden’s Chevy powered car will start in the middle of the front row, with Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Honda starting on the outside of Row One. This is a very popular front row. It’s not the Mount Rushmore front row of 1991 which contained the legends of Rick Mears, AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti, but it is sort of a symbol of the changing of the guard.

Gone from this year’s front row are the usual names of Castroneves, Dixon and Kanaan. Those names will be factors next Sunday, but they’ll have to work their way to the front instead of starting there. This is Newgarden’s first start on the front-row at Indianapolis, but Hinchclffe and Hunter-Reay have been there before.

But the big story of this day is how James Hinchcliffe came back from near-death to put his No.5 Arrow sponsored car on the pole in dramatic fashion. The likeable Canadian was the sentimental favorite of the crowd in the stands. Even Newgarden couldn’t complain too much about barely losing to the popular Mayor of Hinchtown.

There will be other storylines to emerge this week. Hopefully the Monday practice will go incident-free for the first time since it was instituted two years ago. Hinch had his horrifying crash last year during the Monday practice and two years ago it was Kurt Busch tearing up his car on Monday. Lets hope that trend stops.

Tony Kanaan should arise as a story to watch. He will start on the outside of Row Six – a perfect place for him to make a quick move on the outside at the start of the race. Something tells me he won’t be in eighteenth place by the time the field comes around to complete Lap One.

Pippa Mann will start twenty-fifth. It’s not her best start. That was in 2014, when she started twenty-second. She also started twenty-fifth last year. But she has been stronger ths week than in year’s past. Yes she crashed on Saturday, but that was due to a rear wing fence failure. She came back today with little practice in the repaired car and had a strong run of 226.312.

Juan Montoya had a bizarre run. He looked strong on his first two laps, but then hit a trash bag in Turn Two on his third lap. His third lap speed dropped to 210 mph and Lap Four dropped to 191. But since that was out of his control, he was allowed another run. It wasnt spectacular, but it was good enough for seventeenth – which is better than the thirty-second starting spot which he was headed for if that run stood.

Dead last will be Alex Tagliani, who had a spectacular crash on the front straightaway and hit the pit lane attenuator causing him to spin a total of six revolutions. Tags was unhurt but his car sustained a fair amount of damage. He will start at the back.

This qualifying weekend was much better tan last year’s, when the big story was Chevy cars getting airborne and Honda being penalized for it. This year, there was no such controversy. It still remains to be seen how the domed skids will affect the acing next Sunday, but this weekend was pretty much free of controversy.

The focus is where it should be – on James Hinchcliffe’s triumph over near-tragedy and the popular drivers that earned their way onto the front row. The 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 may actually live up to all the hype.

George Phillips

Please Note:  Susan is not the only one on the mend this weekend. So is her computer. She was experiencing technical difficulties with her laptop since we got here. We couldn’t really share – She is a Mac person and I use a PC. So her post is buried in her Mac, currently. She says she knows how to retrieve it when we get home, so it’ll hit sometime this week. – GP

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6 Responses to “A Popular Front Row For The Indianapolis 500”

  1. Bruce Waine Says:

    Congrads go out to Sam Schmidt for his driving 108 plus mph INDY track laps !

    Then the topping when Hinch achieved pole ! !

    What a day for the fans and Sam’s team ! ! !

  2. Ron Ford Says:

    The look on Sam Schmidt’s face was wonderful! I think this is a very popular front row. It is for me. I am having a few Moose Head beers tonight to honor the Canadian Kid.

  3. EDGAR Emmitt Says:

    What a wonderful group of guys on the Front Row for the race we have been waiting for what seems like forever.The 100th running of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
    Only 1 week.
    Now all we need is the weather Gods to give us a day like today.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Great story and great performance for Hinchcliffe. I enjoyed seeing all of the different aerodynamic configurations the team’s tried.

    Red gloves rule.

  5. A torch has been passed to a new generation… ahem, sorry was my best New England accent. What a wonderful front row. I would be so happy in any of them was drinking milk next Sunday.

    This is going to be such a long week. I just want to get in the car tomorrow and start the drive to Indy!

  6. hey George I couldn’t be happier for james and josef. glad to see some new faces up front. good run by townsend bell as well.

    glad for gabby chaves and bryan clauson. too good young drivers.

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