Andretti, Hunter-Reay survive final bumps’
Both wound up in the 33-car field for next Sunday’s race, thanks to their gutsy qualifying runs with time running out on another emotional “Bump Day” on the famed 2.5-mile Brickyard oval.
“I’m glad the race isn’t tomorrow,” said Andretti, who didn’t wrap up his 10th Indy start until his third and final qualifying attempt of the day. “I couldn’t do it. I don’t think I could get in the car. I’m physically, mentally, just totally exhausted.
“I just can’t even believe it. I know that I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and realize I’m back in the Indy 500.”
Andretti and Hunter-Reay, whose successful qualifying effort was underway as the gun went off ending the six-hour final session of time trials, both had to find more speed after being bumped out of the lineup earlier in the day.
Hunter-Reay said he just considered himself lucky to make the race after bumping Indy rookie Alex Tagliani out with the Canadian driver sitting in his car, waiting and hoping to get one more chance.
“That was a timing issue there,” Hunter-Reay said. “I think Tagliani was pretty fast and we were lucky we went out last. I’ve never been so happy to take last place.”
The field was filled on Saturday, but poor weather conditions, including gusty wind, kept the speeds of the slowest qualifiers low enough to make them vulnerable to bumping by faster drivers on Sunday.
And speeds did climb considerably on the final day of qualifying, thanks to a cool, sunny afternoon with little wind.
Tagliani was the unlucky loser.
Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart took the blame after the Canadian rookie was bumped out of the race.
Bachelart acknowledged the team made a mistake by pulling his full-time driver out of line twice in the final 19 minutes of time trials.
“Now it’s obvious we were too conservative, we should have just gone for it,” Bachelart said.
Tagliani was too stunned to say much.
He huddled in solitude in the corner of his garage, crying for nearly an hour before answering questions.
Even then, he was still stunned.
The day began with 1996 race winner Buddy Lazier, 2002 pole-winner Bruno Junqueira and Indy rookie Stanton Barrett the only drivers with a chance to bump their way into the field. In the end, only Junqueira made it, turning a solid four-lap average of 221.115 mph despite not running a lap in his car until Sunday morning.
That bumped Andretti’s Saturday speed of 219.442 out of the field.
The day began with five drivers qualified under 220 and most of the qualifying efforts Sunday came from those drivers, trying to go faster and get themselves out of danger of being bumped.
Tomas Scheckter (221.496), rookie Mike Conway (221.417), E.J. Viso (221.164), Milka Duno (221.106) and rookie Nelson Philippe (220.754) each withdrew an earlier qualifying speed and improved upon it.
Andretti, whose car was entered here by NASCAR icon Richard Petty and fielded by Dreyer & Reinbold, tried to bump his way back in with about two hours to go, but waved off the effort after one lap at 218.
He went back out with 20 minutes left in the session and managed four laps at 220.282, but it wasn’t enough.
Lazier and Barrett, who had been working hard throughout the afternoon to find more speed in practice, then made their final qualifying tries and both came off the track after one slow lap under the green flag, knowing they weren’t going to get it done.
By that time, Andretti’s team had made some quick adjustments on his Petty blue and red No. 43 and he was ready to make one last try.
This time, he put up four straight laps over 221 mph for an average of 221.316 that placed him 28th in the field and bumped out the 220.413 that Hunter-Reay had posted earlier in the day.
“Today was a good day overall,” Andretti said. “The big picture was good. I didn’t get nervous about it. I didn’t lose my cool. I just had enough faith in the people around me.
“But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be for an old guy like me. I can’t imagine how embarrassed I would have been if Richard Petty had called and said, ‘Where are you starting?’ and I had to say, ‘I’m not.’ “
As Andretti drove slowly back to the pits, Hunter-Reay was ready to try again. He drove onto the track with just two minutes until the gun and knowing he had to beat Tagliani’s 220.553 from Saturday or go home.
“It wasn’t much fun,” Hunter-Reay said after barely making it with four laps over 220 and a 220.597 average—just 0.044 seconds quicker than Tagliani over 10 miles. “That was the hairiest day I’ve ever had in racing.”