Carpenter provisionally fastest in Indy 500 qualifying
18 May 2014 – Ed Carpenter was the fastest man on track at the end of the first day of IndyCar's revamped qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. Using a late run to reach an average speed of 230.661mph, the American oval racing specialist guaranteed himself a shot at winning pole position tomorrow.
In the new qualifying format, all entrants were required to set lap times today, but by the final run of the evening, only the top nine would be allowed to race for pole position. 71 qualifying attempts were made today, each of which consisted of four laps with the average speed between them deciding the order. Those drivers who did not qualify in the Fast Nine will still run tomorrow, as well, but the highest spot any of them can occupy will be P10.
Joining Carpenter in the Fast Nine were a slew of American drivers from several smaller teams, including two entries from Ed Carpenter Racing, one from Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and one from Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports. Team Penske had two cars in the Fast Nine along with three from Andretti Autosport, including provisional P2 runner Carlos Munoz. A star in last year's Indy 500, the Colombian is still considered a rookie in the field.
By the end of today's sessions, everyone in the Fast Nine had set an average lap speed in excess of 230mph – the first time any Indy 500 entrant has broken that barrier since 2003. Trailing the top two were three-time race winner Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe, Will Power, Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden and JR Hildebrand, who is only back for this event after losing the 2011 race by crashing on the final corner of the final lap.
NASCAR champion Kurt Busch barely missed out on the Fast Nine, qualifying in P10 (229.960mph). There would have been an opportunity for him to make one final run in the afternoon, but he had to leave the track so that he could fly to Charlotte to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600. Busch will be attempting to run in both the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR Sprint Cup's 600-mile night race next Sunday, although back-up driver Parker Kligerman is ready and waiting in case Busch can't make it to Charlotte in time. For now, the stock car driver will return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway tomorrow to set his starting spot for the marquee event on the IndyCar calendar.
For Carpenter, though, he's used to being in this situation. As defending polesitter, the team owner/driver decided his first run was insufficient midway through the day, choosing to go on another four-lap run with just one hour remaining. This proved to be the right choice, and while his P1 is only provisional today, Carpenter gets 33 championship points for his efforts (P2 got 32, P3 got 31 and so on). Tomorrow, nine points will be awarded to the eventual pole-sitter wtih decreasing point amounts being awarded to qualifiers two through nine.
Notably absent from the Fast Nine were defending series champion Scott Dixon (P15), defending race winner Tony Kanaan (P23) and former race winners Juan Pablo Montoya (P13) and Jacques Villeneuve (P27).