Exciting Bump Day Makes Tearful Return To Indy

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 23 2010
Tony Kanaan heads out for his emotional qualifying run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Tony Kanaan heads out for his emotional qualifying run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Indianapolis – Two very tough men broke down and cried just after 6 p.m. at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday. One set of tears was produced joyous ecstasy. The other by wrenching disappointment. One other man celebrated from a hospital bed.

Bump Day is back at Indy.

The final 11 spots in the starting field for next weekend’s Indianapolis 500 went up for grabs on Sunday. Fifteen drivers wound up chasing those spots.

Among them were a handful of very good stories. Topping that list was Tony Kanaan.

Kanaan – a former pole winner at Indy, a former IndyCar Series champion and the top driver on the top-tier Andretti Autosport team – crashed during Saturday’s Pole Day qualifying run and rolled out Sunday morning in his lone backup car.

But in the morning warmup session, he spun and crashed again.

His team hustled the car to his garage and went to work. Using parts and pieces commandeered from teammates, the car was rebuilt and sent out for practice in mid afternoon.

“I had the rear end of the (Ryan) Hunter-Reay car, Danica (Patrick’s) engine cover, Marco (Andretti’s) front wing and it didn’t fit very well and we knew we were going to lose some speed,” Kanaan said.

With 40 minutes left on Bump Day, he went out and posted four laps which put him into the field – albeit, uncomfortably into the field.

His speed held up, however, and he had earned his starting spot – 32nd in the 33-car field.

And the tears flowed.

“I did it. I did it. It was a very emotional day,” Kanaan said. “I don’t cry very easy. The other Brazilian (Helio Castroneves) does all the time. But it was a tough day for me. Every time I came out, I was very emotional.”

When Kanaan’s average speed (224.072 mph) was posted on the track video board, the IMS crowd rose to its feet.

“You have an idea sometimes how much fans like you,” Kanaan said. “You guys (reporters) say I’m a fan favorite and this and that but I never paid much attention to that. But every time I came out here, it was amazing how big the crowd cheered. That made me very emotional.”

A second big story on Bump Day was Paul Tracy. The veteran Canadian driver – whom many still think was deprived of the 2002 500 victory by series officials who ruled a yellow flag was waved late in the race before he had passed Castronevers – started the day in need of a good run.

He got that good run and appeared late in the day to have a spot in the field.

But with 20 minutes remaining, Takuma Sato put Tracy on the bubble. Tracy’s KV Racing Technology team put him in the qualifying line just in case another car did bump him. And with 15 minutes left, Jay Howard nearly bumped Tracy.

With 9 minutes left, Tracy found himself at the front of the qualifying line and it was decision time – stand on his shaky time or withdraw it and head back out in a car which showed good speed all week.

His team gambled.

And lost.

Several times during his run, Tracy’s car skated out toward the wall and missed the concrete by inches. His speed fell and he found himself outside the field.

With several other cars already in line, Tracy never got another shot.

He entered the press room and joked, “Why the long faces?” as he sat down.

A couple of seconds later, he broke down.

After several attempts at pulling himself together, he finally said, “I’m a little numb right now. Disappointed. We were on the track and trying to do it. And it’s hard to walk away, you know? The team did everything they could. I drove the wheels off it. And, I don’t know what to say.”

Of the actual decision to pull a speed off the board which would have stood up, Tracy said, “The frustrating part for us is that the speed was in the car, at various times of the day. All week, the car was 225, 226. Two days ago we were quickest on the track. When the temperature came up, we lost the handle on the car and couldn’t get it back.”

The final car in the field, the car which survived the final assaults on the day, was that of Sebastian Saavedra.

Nobody knows if he cried at 6 p.m. because he was in a local hospital when the gun sounded to end qualifying. Saavedra crashed earlier in the day and was taken to the hospital because of back pain.

He just might have cried, however, as his day may have been the most eventful of all as he spent it on the bubble and then on a gurney.

Five women had chances to earn berths in the 500 but only four made it. Milka Duno made a couple of attempts late in the day but came up well short.

Sarah Fisher needed just one attempt on Sunday and it was a strong one. Fisher’s speed of 224.434 landed her the 29th position.

She will be joined by Saturday qualifiers Ana Beatriz, Simona De Silvestro, Danica Patrick next Sunday.

Bump Day, which many feel used to be the most dramatic in day in motorsports, has been pretty dull in recent years. But thanks to a high car count and a new qualifying procedure, the thrill – for one day, at least – was back.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 23 2010
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