|Carpenter grabs top seed in Indy's pole shootout|
|Sunday, May 18, 2014 12:00 AM|
INDIANAPOLIS — When Ed Carpenter, Carlos Munoz and Helio Castroneves were pushed to the edge Saturday, each remained calm and came up with their best qualifying runs of the day.
Now they have to do it again one more time today.
The American, Colombian and Brazilian who have celebrated some of their biggest career moments at Indianapolis each made daring runs over the final 80 minutes Saturday to take the top three seeds heading into today's Indianapolis 500 shootout. Carpenter finished first with a 4-lap qualifying average of 230.661 mph. Munoz was second at 230.460.
"I wasn't sure we were going to go 230 in our first run, so I was relieved when we did," Carpenter said. "But to be honest, I didn't think going into qualifying I was going to exceed 230."
Others drivers thought Carpenter would and it only took one practice lap and one qualifying lap to assuage any doubts. Carpenter, the fifth car on the track, averaged 230.114 then sat around all day as other drivers tried to knock him off the top rung.
Nobody caught him until a rain delay ended at 4:18 p.m. Then in a flurry of speed, Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe knocked Carpenter off the pole, Munoz knocked Hinchcliffe, his teammate, off the pole and Carpenter retook the pole. He finished the day waiting 65 minutes to see if it would stand.
Normally, the reward for surviving such tension would be celebrating a pole win.
Instead, under the new qualifying format, all Saturday did was assure Carpenter and the other eight top cars of a top-9 starting spot on Indy's traditional 33-car starting grid. Each of the top nine will have one qualifying run today with the fastest claiming the coveted No. 1 starting spot for the May 25 race.
The success of Carpenter, Munoz and Castroneves was hardly a surprise.
Carpenter, last year's pole winner, had one of the fastest cars in practice Thursday and Friday. If he wins the pole again today on the track his stepfather, Tony George, once ran, Carpenter would be the second driver since 1990 to earn consecutive poles at Indy. Castroneves also did it in 2009 and 2010.
Munoz, meanwhile, drives for Michael Andretti, whose team has consistently put four or five drivers in the top 10 all week. In 2013, Munoz made his IndyCar debut here and responded by qualifying second, finishing second and walking away as the 500 rookie of the year.
Castroneves owns three 500 wins and three pole wins at Indy — all for team owner Roger Penske.
But there was plenty of intrigue, too.
Kurt Busch, the fourth driver to attempt "the double" by racing in Indy and Charlotte on the same day, May 25, nearly made it into the pole shootout, too. He was bumped with 39 minutes left in qualifying when 2000 Indy winner Juan Pablo Montoya surpassed Busch's speed of 229.960. Busch could have bumped his way back into the fast nine had he not already left for NASCAR's All-Star race in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was scheduled to be back in Indy for Day 2 when the top 30 starting spots will be determined.
Two other Andretti drivers, Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti, overcame unusual circumstances to reach the shootout. Hinchcliffe was fourth (230.407) despite spending most of this week recovering from a concussion. Andretti actually withdrew his original qualifying time to move into a shorter line, then waved off on another attempt before making it back to No. 6.
France's Simon Pagenaud, who won the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis last weekend, was seventh.
Carpenter's teammate, JR Hildebrand, and Sarah Fisher's driver, Josef Newgarden, also made the shootout, though Chip Ganassi's four drivers were shut out.
This time, they'll all be watching Carpenter and the rest of the gang.
Blaney earns Nationwide pole in Iowa
NEWTON, Iowa — Ryan Blaney became the youngest winner in the history of the NASCAR Truck Series at Iowa Speedway two years ago.
Today, he'll attempt to become the youngest driver to win a NASCAR Nationwide race on Iowa's short track.
The 20-year-old Blaney won't be the only kid pushing a podium finish.
Blaney will start from the pole for today's race at Iowa Speedway after finishing first in qualifying on Saturday.
Blaney won a pole for the first time in the Nationwide Series and did so less than 24 hours after a disappointing 22nd-place finish in the trucks race in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday night.
"It's been a busy 24 hours," Blaney said. "My team did a great job of getting everything ready, for me to just come to jump in the car and have it close to where we need it to be."
Sam Hornish Jr. will join Blaney on the front row, followed by Michael McDowell, Regan Smith and Dylan Kwasniewski.
Series points leader Chase Elliott will start sixth in the Nationwide's first stand-alone race of the season — which will feature three drivers aged 20 or younger in the top six starting spots.
Elliott, a point ahead of Elliott Sadler, graduated from King's Ridge Christian School in Georgia on Saturday morning and flew right back to Iowa for qualifying.
"I definitely think it was worth it to go home and be part of that," Elliott said. "It was definitely weird to be here, then gone, then back just for qualifying. It's a little odd but other than that we're happy to get back."
The rest of the field might wish Elliott stayed in Georgia.
Elliott has already won twice this season, at Texas and Darlington, and has led the standings for well over a month. He's also won at Iowa before, taking first in a K&N Pro Series race in 2012, and his No. 9 Chevrolet was the fastest car in two of the three practice sessions.
Elliott said Saturday that he's looking forward to directing his focus on racing rather than school.
Today's race will also feature a pair of hometown drivers coming off their best runs of the season.
Fairfax, Iowa native Landon Cassill scored his first top 10 of the year when he finished eighth at Talladega two weeks ago. Joey Gase of Cedar Rapids finished a career-best 11th at Talladega despite having his engine run out of water on the last lap because it had overheated so often.
Cassill will start ninth, while Gase will be 29th.
This will be the first of two Nationwide races this season at Iowa, which was bought by NASCAR in the offseason. The second will be held on Aug. 2 and NASCAR announced Saturday that it will be the final event in the 4-race "Dash 4 Cash" program that could award up to $1 million to a series regular.
The move is part of a push by NASCAR to make Iowa a featured track for a series often overshadowed by the top-tier Sprint Cup series.
"This is where we want to make names, where we want the Nationwide Series to be on a pedestal," Iowa Speedway president Jimmy Small said.
Johnson completes triathlon before All-Star race
CONCORD, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson proved he can do more than win NASCAR races.
The 6-time Sprint Cup champion won the 35-39 age group at the Over The Mountain Triathlon in Kings Mountain on Saturday hours before heading to Charlotte Motor Speedway to compete in the NASCAR All-Star race.
Johnson finished 11th overall out of 119 male participants with a time of 2 hours, 30 minutes, 7 seconds.
"It was awesome," Johnson said. "... I'm so stoked, so stoked."
Johnson's bib number was — what else? — No. 48.