There is no bigger pressure cooker in motorsports than Bump Day at the Indianapolis 500. Ten miles on the clock, with time ticking down, going flat out in a race car that probably isn’t very good and may be a threat to crash. Emotions always run high in the final minutes before 6:00, and this year was far from an exception.
The big story most of the day was Tony Kanaan. After crashing on Saturday during his qualifying run, Kanaan crashed his backup car during Sunday morning practice. The team was left to repair the car as quickly as possible, and then get it up to speed. For most of the day, they didn’t have it, and TK looked very frustrated and almost desperate.
While the #11 team was repairing the car, a bunch of cars qualified right at noon, including fan favorites John Andretti, Sarah Fisher, and Vitor Meira. Bruno Junqueira wowed everyone by getting into the second FAZZT car and qualifying at 225.6 mph with almost no practice. That speed would’ve gotten Junky into the shootout had it been run on Saturday. By the end of the first wave, Sebastian Saavedra was on the bubble, with Kanaan, Milka Duno, Takuma Sato, and Jaques Lazier (replacing AJ Foyt IV) on the outside looking in. Paul Tracy, Jay Howard, and Mario Romancini were in at this point, but far from safe.
With about an hour to go, Saavedra crashed. With no way now of defending his speed, it looked almost certain that Saavedra would be bumped.
A few minutes later, Kanaan finally went for it. Somehow, TK pulled it off, qualifying at just over 224 mph, putting him in the field…for now anyway. That bumped Saavedra and put Romancini on the bubble. Last year in this situation, Romancini’s team, Conquest Racing, sat back and their driver (Alex Tagliani) was bumped at the last second. Learning from that, they withdrew and sent Romancini back out. He delivered with a 224.6 mph average. This put Jay Howard on the bubble, and he would soon be bumped by Takuma Sato.
At this point, things went nuts. Jay Howard now tries to bump back it and fails. Paul Tracy is now on the bubble, and his team decides to gamble and get himself off the bubble. However, PT brushes the wall twice and isn’t fast enough to get back in. After Lazier and Milka made last ditch attempts (and failed), it was up to Howard on the bubble, with Tracy behind him in line.
For Howard, it was decision time. Pull out of line and make Tracy beat you, or withdraw your original speed and keep your fate in your hands. The team chose the latter, and Howard went out with a minute to go. This officially meant PT was inexplicably out of the race, and that Saavedra was somehow back on the bubble. Unfortunately for Howard, he was even slower than last time, and as the gun sounded, Paul Tracy and Jay Howard had officially gambled and lost. Sebastian Saavedra, meanwhile, found out he made the Indy 500 field while on the way to the hospital to be checked out.
In the end, it wasn’t necessarily about being the fastest, but about making the right decisions in crunch time. Mario Romancini’s team did and he is in the race; Paul Tracy and Jay Howard’s teams did not and they are out. It was another gut wrenching, exciting, and somewhat bizarre Bump Day at Indianapolis, but the end result is the same as every year, a full 33 car starting field for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.