Ain’t No Bumping When You’re Gone (2020 Indy 500 Quals Preview)

In the perfect non-COVID world, we would have already discussed qualification, since they happened in May. Fans would have been in the stands every day. There would have been over thirty-three cars. Qualifications would be a weekend of triumph and heartbreak. Last year’s Juncos making it in and bumping out McLaren had us all leaping for joy. This is a different year, as we all know. Qualification weekend won’t feature an Indianapolis Motor Speedway full of fans, or even bumping.

I maintain that qualification weekend begins with Fast Friday. That last day of practice where teams get the extra umph of speed and get everything set for the all important qualification runs on Saturday. This year the cars get a bump up to 150 kilopascals. Rumor is we may see some records broken over qualifying weekend due to this bump. You’ll hear the phrase “non-tow speed” a lot today. This is the lap speed of the cars when they are not behind the draft of another car. It’s similar to when you get in that sweet spot behind a semi truck on the highway. Non-tow is all about speed on an open track, which is indicative of how a driver may qualify. The faster the non-tow the better their qualifying position (hopefully). However don’t count out tow speed. While not as important this weekend, the tow speeds are how fast the cars go in traffic. If you have a fast car in traffic…that means they’re going to be super quick in the race. Both are important for different reasons.

From Last Year

Saturday sets spots 10-33. Each driver is guaranteed one four-lap qualifying attempt. The average of those four-laps determines their position. Following everyone getting that one guaranteed attempt, two lanes then emerge. One lane is the priority lane, a driver who gets into that lane erases their earlier time. Drivers in this lane will go before drivers in the other lane. Drivers in the non-priority lane don’t erase their prior times. Then on Sunday, the fastest nine drivers from Saturday take part in the Fast 9 Shootout. Their times from Saturday get erased and they all get one four-lap attempt. This sets the top nine positions, and most importantly sets the pole position for the Indianapolis 500. It’s a speed show, and my favorite time of qualification weekend.

Thinking about what may happen over this weekend, it’s interesting. As indicated we may see some records broken dower to the higher power boost this year. There’s going to be some unique strategy playing out on Saturday. Since there is no chance of a driver being bumped…do you erase times and get into the priority lane and go for multiple attempts? Or do you keep it in the non-priority lane? I would expect the drivers who are close to getting into the Fast 9 will get into the priority lane. Driver safely mid-pack may not take advantage of additional chances, we’ve seen some bad crashes during qualifications. It’s the risk-reward trade off. If you have a solid car and a solid position, is it better to just wait and see how that position gets jumbled around, or risk it for a better position? This is a long-game strategy. Following qualifications they have a practice on Friday before the race and that’s it.

Of course, don’t count out Indiana weather. May in Indiana and August in Indiana are two completely different situations. We’ve had some pretty un-August like weather recently with mild temperatures. It’s not unexpected for August to bring blistering heat and sudden monster pop-up showers that can flood out the track in under thirty-minutes. A good storm on Saturday can shift the schedule like crazy and give everyone just one-shot, it almost happened last year. If any type of rain delay happens, then you really have to ask if jumping into the priority lane and erasing your time is a good gamble.

Qualification weekend is full of tradition. Both on the track and with the fans who go to the track. For me Fast Friday was the day Dad joined me at the track. Spending hours sitting in stands watching cars, drinking beer, eating hot dogs, and calling lap times. Since no one is allowed at the track, I’m working (boo!). Saturday is Abby and I in E-Stand, just being fans and not working. We’re not letting anything get in the way of that tradition, some tweaks. Keep an eye on our social media as it’ll be a great day (you can find all our social media here). We have our own drinking game for Qualifications, we discussed it on our most recent episode (listen Here) or honestly everyone picks a lap number (1-4) and whoever picked the fastest lap wins, all others drink. Of course Pole Day is my favorite day of qualifications. I’m sad we won’t have the triumph and heartbreak of the Last Row Shoot Out, but I’ll still get my speed show with the Fast Nine.

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