34 cars entered, but obstacles remain
Indianapolis’ traditional 33-car starting grid seems safe, for now.
There could even be some bumping on qualifying weekend.
On Thursday, last year’s 500 runner-up, JR Hildebrand, drove up in a Hummer to personally deliver the 34-car entry list – one more than necessary — to speedway CEO Jeff Belskus just inside the track’s main gate.
”I am completely convinced of it (having a 33-car field), unless something unusual happens,” Belskus said after Thursday’s photo op.
Some in the IndyCar community are concerned that this year’s switch to new cars and new engines could jeopardize the traditional three-car, 11-row grid for the May 27 race. It’s the biggest starting field on this season’s 16-race schedule.
Still, there’s no guarantee 33 cars will start the race.
Only 30 drivers have been announced, including USAC star Bryan Clauson who will drive the No. 39 car for Sarah Fisher’s team. The official announcement came less than an hour after track officials released the entry list.
Ed Carpenter Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Newman/Haas Racing each have one car with no assigned driver.
One potential obstacle could be money.
Low-budget teams that have relied on less-costly used parts in recent years may not have that option this year, and the open cars are still trying to find enough sponsorship to make it worth putting someone in the cockpit.
An even bigger problem, though, might be finding enough crew members for the race.
”I think we are dealing with some limited resources,” Belskus said. ”But it’s not so much the lack of engines as it is the people who work it all out.”
Crashes could create chaos, too.
Last May, Chinese driver Ho-Pin Tung crashed on the last of his four qualifying laps and never got another chance to make the race. It happens, especially with teams that cannot afford backup cars or if drivers are not medically cleared in time to get back into the cockpit.
But Belskus downplayed the speculation, insisting there would be plenty of action on Bump Day, the second and final qualifying round May 20, when non-qualified cars attempt to knock other qualified cars out of the field and that the field could even grow beyond 34 cars before qualifications end.
”We expect a full field, we’ll see some bumping,” Belskus said. ”The tradition continues.”