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EMBURY: Indianapolis 500 Grid-a-tology, Final Edition

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The purpose of Indianapolis 500 Grid-a-tology is to give an idea on who’s trending upward in the battle for being Firestone Fast Nine eligible. 

Fast Friday is now in the record books, and changes in the final field projection are rampant. Among those trending upward, Ed Carpenter Racing appears to be regaining the form shown during back-to-back pole position efforts in 2013 and 2014. Entering the opening week of practice, J.R. Hildebrand seemed to be the biggest threat; however, team boss Ed Carpenter was regularly the fastest in laps completed without a draft before the increase in speeds on Friday.

Another team that has unexpectedly made a jump into the conversation is Dale Coyne Racing – the same squad who claimed last month that they could not challenge for high finishes. Fast forward to Friday and out of nowhere, Sebastien Bourdais fired off a draft-aided run over 233 MPH and backed it up with an assist-free lap over 231 MPH. While making the Firestone Fast Nine is still a tall order, the Frenchman at least has flashed what it would take to get there.

As for the rest of the contenders, Penske and Ganassi are still well within range of position number one, while any of the six-member Andretti Autosport club can get there likewise. Meanwhile, the pole position title defense for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is entering long-shot status.

FRONT ROW

Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing: Consistent pace from both the New Zealander and Tony Kanaan have solidified the Iceman’s spot on the top line. If the weather does limit action to a Sunday-only affair, it just makes the odds that much more favorable.

Helio Castroneves, Team Penske: Four Indy 500 poles are on his resume, but it has been seven years since Spider Man’s last hurrah. May represent the Captain’s best chance following Newgarden’s accident on Thursday.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport: Honda has the pace to give RHR an edge over most of the Chevrolet runners, but that may not be enough to catch Dixon for first.

ROW 2

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske: Getting used to the spare car was why the Tennessee-native did not make an impact on Fast Friday. Should still find himself somewhere on the first three rows on Sunday.

Will Power, Team Penske: The Aussie has been able to transfer strength in road course time trials to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Do not overlook that reality.

Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing: Qualifying in the first two rows was the standard form for TK early in his Indy 500 career, but not so much over past few editions. Second-fastest clean lap posting Friday entices me to say a return to the previous outputs is in order.

ROW 3

Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing: Two-time pole award earner has quickly climbed the grid based on high placing on draft-free speed charts before Fast Friday. Still, he needs to show more to be a real pole position challenger but should get to the shootout.

Alexander Rossi, Andretti Herta Autosport: If only he had gotten a second run in pre-qualifying last year. Year two should offer a friendlier result.

Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske: The 2016 series champion could face stiff opposition to make shootout if Honda continues to outperform GM-powered cars.

ROW 4

James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Last year’s pole winner has suddenly gotten lost in the shuffle. Will be a battle to reach the final session this time around.

Sebastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing: The comments previously made by Craig Hampson, seem like a smokescreen after what the former Champ Car World Series champion put on the board Friday. Will be hard pressed to back that up when it counts, however.

J.R. Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter Racing: Can join his boss in the top-nine, but the number of real threats to get there is getting bigger too.

ROW 5:

Fernando Alonso, Andretti Autosport: Has quietly gone about his business this week and was in the 230 MPH club without a draft on Friday. If luck shines on him, he could maybe get into the shootout conversation.

Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport: Is starting to fall behind his teammates regarding getting to the Firestone Fast Nine. This list now includes Alonso.

Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: The Russian continues to stay in the top half of the speed list, but a big boost is necessary to get a realistic look at making the first three rows as he managed in 2016.

 

ROW 6:

Takuma Sato, Andretti Autosport: After starting impressively at St. Petersburg, the near- 2012 Indy 500 upset winner returns to familiar territory from when he was with A.J. Foyt Racing. Does not appear able to take advantage of a good car for qualifications.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske: Time trials has been kryptonite for the Colombian, he has been worst among the Captain’s runners each of the past three years.

Oriol Servia, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Servia has been the better of the two RLLR entrants this past week. Nothing on Friday indicates a reversal is in prospect.

ROW 7

Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi Racing: Three top-ten finishes at the Indy 500, but has yet to make an impact in qualifying mode. Should top Chilton to be third in CGR stable, but not much more than that.

Sage Karam, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: DRR’s focus has been more on the race than time trials; 2017 should be no different.

Carlos Munoz, A.J. Foyt Racing: The aggressive veteran does not have the resources to threaten the top nine as he did with Andretti. Dramatic turnaround required before Munoz improves his placing.

ROW 8

Ed Jones, Dale Coyne Racing: Issues with car and weather prevented the Dubai-resident from testing out qualifying setup on Friday. He could still get near Bourdais at the close of Sunday action, but it will be a more difficult ask.

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Qualified seventh in his first try with the family-based organization, but has been nowhere near that zip code in the years since.

Max Chilton, Chip Ganassi Racing: Interesting to see how the Englishman fares this month after a Pole Day crash last year derailed the effort. Could see a surprise jump.

ROW 9

Jay Howard, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Has shaken off some of the rust formed by six years of IndyCar inactivity; however, qualifying is a bigger pressure cooker than the run up to it.

Pippa Mann, Dale Coyne Racing: Made history by becoming the first woman to post a lap over 230 MPH at the Brickyard on Friday. Could surprise several this weekend.

Conor Daly, A.J. Foyt Racing: Topped Gateway speed chart, but may have only done so as pace may not have been the concern for most of his rivals.

ROW 10

Gabby Chaves, Harding Racing: The Colombian was third-fastest earlier this week, but has steadily dropped down the charts.

Zach Veach, A.J. Foyt Racing: Has been in step with both of his A.J. Foyt Racing teammates this week, but mainly because all three have lacked speed.

Jack Harvey, Andretti Autosport: English rookie has yet to show the pace of his five teammates. Challenge now is to avoid losing out to a majority of the other one-off entries.

ROW 11

Sebastian Saavedra, Juncos Racing: Pace for the Colombian has been lacking so far in practice. Not expected to make a significant impact in qualifications.

Spencer Pigot, Juncos Racing: Friday accident puts the sophomore behind the eight-ball looking ahead to this weekend. Avoiding the back row is now the chief concern.

Buddy Lazier, Lazier Partners Racing: Playing catch-up after taking his first laps this month on Friday. Avoiding 33rd on the starting grid would be a personal victory for the 1996 Indy 500 winner and the team.

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Matt Embury

An auto racing writer for over five years, Matt Embury's interest in auto racing was influenced from his father's side of the family. His first recollection of live racing attendance was in the early 1990s watching winged sprint car action at Butler Motor Speedway in Michigan with his uncle and dad. A major follower of both the Verizon IndyCar Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Matt has attended six previous Indianapolis 500s and rates Tony Kanaan's long awaited victory in the 2013 edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing as his favorite memory. Outside of following auto racing, Matt is an avid fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish athletics program and can often be seen at home games throughout the season or running the audio controls on several ND-related radio programs. A native of Springboro, Ohio, Matt now resides in Mishawaka, Indiana.