Fisher makes it back to Indy 500 field

INDIANAPOLIS -- The 2000 Indianapolis 500 included two women, Lyn St. James and Sarah Fisher.

It's now official that this year's race will duplicate the feat.

Fisher put her Dreyer & Reinbold Racing machine into the show Sunday during second-day qualifying for the middle 11 spots in the field. She waited until nearly 3:30 p.m. to make her run, bypassing her initial spot in the original qualifying line, but once on the track was able to complete four laps at 221.960 mph and land in the 21st starting position for the race.

"We didn't work on qualifying much this morning [in practice], so going out there today we tried to trim it out as much as we could," Fisher said. "We had a little bit of right-steer, but that's all right because that is my job."

Fisher didn't attempt qualifying during Saturday's Pole Day, citing an unspecified mechanical failure that could not be repaired in time. So she had to wait one day for qualifying for her first 500 since 2004.

"It's great to be back here," she said. "Indianapolis means so much to you, especially when you're not here and have a normal job."

That normal job a year ago was with a marketing company, and among her duties was holding a banner for IndyCar driver Vitor Meira at a press conference.

"That was cool and Vitor is a really cool guy to work with, and I was trying to help," said Fisher, who has run five Indy 500s with her highest finish of 21st coming in 2004. "I tell you what, there is nothing like driving here. Growing up in a race car in the cockpit, that was really where I wanted to be."

While Fisher and Danica Patrick (who qualified eighth on Saturday) are safely in, it remains to be seen whether this year's event will include a third woman. Rookie Milka Duno did not qualify or practice over the weekend after crashing during practice Friday. Samax Motorsports officials said her car will be ready to practice Wednesday (the track is closed Monday and Tuesday), and then she will attempt to qualify Saturday.

Top drivers take day off

With qualifying behind them, several of the fastest drivers in the field opted to take Sunday off. Team Penske and Ganassi Racing's drivers did not practice, and only Dario Franchitti of Andretti Green Racing turned laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"We were playing to our strengths today. Tony [Kanaan] is really good at finding the limit of a qualifying car, and I have a good feel for a race car," said Franchitti, who held the pole for much of Saturday before being bumped down to third by polesitter Helio Castroneves and teammate Kanaan. "I got delegated to do that today and give us maybe a head start of where we need to be to start on Wednesday."

Ryan Briscoe of Luczo Dragon Racing was the only other Saturday qualifier to practice. He has a certain sense of urgency to run as much as possible around the 2.5-mile oval, having to compete next weekend at Salt Lake City in the American Le Mans Series for Penske Racing.

Former champion makes the field
Buddy Rice had a unique view on the weekend's new qualifying format. He made the first attempt Saturday, then could only sit and watch while the qualifying line continued and steadily knocked him down and then out of the top-11. He declined to make another attempt, but came back Sunday in the mid-afternoon and clocked 222.826 mph to safely qualify 16th.

The effort was 1 mph better than Saturday's.

"Looks like even if we would have qualified yesterday with a car like we had today, we probably would have been a little bit better off," said Rice, the 2004 champion for Rahal Letterman Racing who now races for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. "But, you know, it really does not matter. We are in the show right now and we will get back to work on our race car and really focus on what happens at the end of the month.

Two-time champion Al Unser Jr. will have to wait a week to get into the field. His 220.963 mph qualifying attempt was bumped Sunday.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.