Tribune auto racing columnist
After being bumped from the starting field while sitting on the qualifying line on pole day, Josef Newgarden turned the fastest time on bump day, assuring himself a spot in the Indianapolis 500.
The field of 33 cars will have one final opportunity to practice on Friday before next Sunday’s 97th running of the 500.
One year ago the Sarah Fisher Racing Team withdrew Newgarden’s entry on the first day of qualifying and had to qualify on bump day. This year the team decided not to make another qualifying run and got bumped.
“It was a tough day,” Newgarden said. “We didn’t even think we would have to go out for a second attempt. We knew it was going to be close. We had a tough run. We had a couple of issues.”
The Tennessee native said the team was confident it would qualify on Sunday and he did so with no difficulties. He posted the fastest four-lap average at 225.731 miles per hour.
His qualifying speed from Sunday would have been good enough for 21st, the outside of Row 7, if it happened a day earlier. Instead, he’ll start 25th, the inside of Row 9. The top 24 spots were set Saturday.
There was no drama on Sunday as the only driver not in the field, Michel Jourdain Jr., could never get his Rahal Letterman ride to top 220 mph. The team continually worked on the car trying to find enough speed in the car, but all efforts proved to be futile.
Katherine Legge, who climbed into the Schmidt Peterson car only Saturday, was the last driver to make the field. She had an average speed of 223.176.
As the end of the qualifying time approached, she sat in her car prepared to be another run, if necessary.
It wasn’t necessary as Jourdain never attempted a qualifying run.
Teammate Graham Rahal, who was in then out of the starting field on Saturday before finally deciding to wait another day, was second quick on Sunday.
“I have been in this spot before, so I knew this would be the way it would be,” he said. “I thought we would be quicker, fought some uphill battles and couldn’t get through it.”
Rahal said during the practice session the car was back in the 226 mph range.
“It was far more on edge [Sunday] than it was [Saturday],” he said. “When you start to get the temperatures like this, it starts to slide around significantly more. I could feel the wind gusts, so it was pretty on edge a couple of times.”
Conor Daly, who thus far in May has had the only accident, qualified 31st with an average speed of 223.582.
“It’s nice to get it all done for once, and it’s exciting to get it done early,” the Indy 500 rookie said.
Buddy Lazier, the 1996 race winner, qualified with a family-owned team that was finalized only last week. He will start in the middle of the last row.
With a qualifying average of 223.442, Lazier said he was disappointed the car didn’t turn laps in the 225 range as it did during the practice.
“The track has changed a little bit,” he said. “We kind of knew that, but I think the track was a little hotter than we anticipated. It is nice to know there is more speed in the car, if and when we need it.”
Three women led by Ana Beatriz made the starting field. She is joined by Pippa Mann and Legge.