- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - IndyCar drivers can’t afford to make a mistake Saturday.

Otherwise, they might not get a second shot at the coveted Indianapolis 500 pole.

With more than three dozen driver-car combinations lining up for two days of qualifications and rain in the forecast both days, drivers will have to take their best shot on their first, and perhaps, only attempt at the top qualifying spot.

“You might only get one run,” said Scott Dixon, who won the 500 from the pole in 2008. “So you’re really going to have to focus on preparing yourself well, making sure that your first run is a good one. With 40 cars trying to qualify, it’s going to be a complete mess.”

That would certainly fit with this month’s theme.

Rain completely washed out practice Sunday and Wednesday, kept all but one car off the track Tuesday and cut last Saturday’s practice short by 2 1/2 hours. The limited track time _ and the potential for more rain to eliminate any additional practice between qualifying attempts this weekend _ has teams revising their schedules and recalculating to see how they can safely make the field Saturday.

Team Penske president Tim Cindric, for instance, used most of Friday’s six-hour practice session to work on race setup for the team’s three drivers. When they finally switched to qualifying setup late in the day, three-time winner and four-time pole-sitter Helio Castroneves vaulted to the top of the speed chart with a fast lap of 228.611 mph. No surprise there.

Castroneves, the former “Dancing With The Stars” champ acknowledged he did get a tow on that lap.

But in Indy’s unique qualifying format, one good lap simply isn’t enough.

Cars are positioned on the 33-car starting grid based on four-lap averages. The nine fastest cars Saturday can then participate in a 90-minute shootout at the end of the day. None of those nine will start lower the No. 9 spot _ the outside of Row 3 _ for the May 29 race.

The remaining nine starting spots will be filled Sunday. Once 33 cars are in the field, non-qualified cars can begin bumping their way in.

Add more rain to the mix, and it could make for the wildest, wackiest qualifying weekends seen in Indy in years.

“All my experience here, I never had this type of a scenario with so many cars going around the track,” said three-time winner and four-time pole sitter Helio Castroneves.

Who’s in position to take the pole at this centennial celebration?

Of course, Castroneves is one of the favorites. He’s qualified in the top 10 each of his last eight years and among the top five in six straight years.

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