A driver's loneliest day
By Jack Arute, Special to ABC Sports Online Forget who had the fastest time in practice. Forget what the weather was like this week. What it comes down to today is simply the drivers against the Grand Old Lady known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Eddie Cheever may have said it best when he referred to qualifying for the Indy 500 as, "The loneliest, yet most pressure-filled time of any driver's career."
After a week of practice with other cars on the track, drivers lay it all on the line for four laps (10 miles), to determine where they'll start on the grid May 28.
Greg Ray posted the fastest practice speed -- 223.948 mph -- heading into Saturday's qualifying.
While it's been fascinating to see seven different drivers post the fastest daily times, it's simply a one-on-one contest today. Roaming through Gasoline Alley this morning, the favorite seems to be Team Menard. Many of the insiders think the two cars entered -- Robby Gordon and defending IRL champion Greg Ray -- have been the fastest out on the track running alone.
It will be interesting to see whether it will be Gordon or Ray. Gordon, a regular on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, came to Indy as a late addition to the normally one-car Menard operation. While publicly Ray has said with a smile that he welcomes the addition of Gordon, all you have to do is look deep into his eyes to realize that the guy he wants to beat the most is his teammate.
Others believe that both Juan Montoya and Jimmy Vasser also have a shot at the front row. It would not surprise me if one or the other, or both, find their way to the front of the field. I like the chances of Scott Sharp and one of the A.J. Foyt cars to fill out the first row.
A longshot or sleeper, if you will, could be 5-foot-1 Jimmy Kite. Kite has done a lot of practice in various weather conditions, and has consistently posted a speed in the top seven or eight each day.
Weather conditions today are far different than what it's been in practice. It's cooler and overcast. Teams will tell you the cooler the air, the better the engine performance. The better the engine performance, the faster the speeds. What will be the top speed today? You can get speeds as high as 225 mph and as low as 222 mph. In my estimation, this year's pole winner will average around 222 mph with at least one of his or her laps coming in at a little over 223 mph.