After struggling last week and failing to put a car in the fast nine for qualifying, the team led by defending Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan staged a rally on Carb Day. Kanaan was left atop the leaderboard Friday with a lap of 227.838 mph, while Dixon was next-fastest at 227.773 mph.
“We definitely didn’t do it on purpose,” said Dixon, who will start in the middle of the fourth row Sunday. “We would like to roll out straightaway and be quick. I think we are normally.”
Kanaan will start on the inside of the sixth row as he attempts to become the first back-to-back winner since Helio Castroneves in 2003. Teammate Charlie Kimball will start in the ninth row.
“We feel good about it,” Kanaan said. “We worked pretty hard together to make up for our Saturday qualifying. We have great people back in the engineering office at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and it really showed a little bit after qualifying and today.”
The turnaround by the Ganassi stable brought back memories of 2012, when the team struggled throughout the month of May. But by the time Carb Day rolled around, Dario Franchitti had posted the fastest lap of the day, and Dixon was close behind in second.
That was how they would finish on Sunday. Franchitti went on to win his third Indy 500, and Takuma Sato’s last-lap spin into the Turn 1 wall allowed Dixon to finish second.
Townsend Bell, three-time winner Helio Castroneves and rookie Mikhail Aleshin joined Kanaan and Dixon among the five fastest laps Friday. Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti were next on the speed chart, while Juan Pablo Montoya was ninth-quickest.
Kurt Busch stepped into Andretti’s backup car and climbed to 15th on the chart. Busch wrecked his primary car in practice on Monday, forcing his team to convert a car that Andretti had planned to use at Detroit from a road-course setup to an oval setup.
“Just had to get back on my horse,” said Busch, who will attempt to run the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte on Sunday. “As the NASCAR guys always say, ‘Got to thank my crew,’ but honestly, this is a thank-the-crew moment from Andretti Autosport.”
On a busy Carb Day at Indianapolis, here are five more things that happened:
ANOTHER DOUBLE: As Busch becomes the fourth driver to attempt double duty, there’s been speculation more NASCAR drivers may someday try the grueling feat. Busch’s younger brother, Kyle, has said he’ll make an attempt if he ever wins a Sprint Cup championship. “I don’t know why more NASCAR guys don’t do it,” said former IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who admits he’d love to try it. “You only live once. It’s two of the biggest races in the world, so why not do it?”
BLOCKING RULES: An unofficial poll of drivers indicated very few want to be the leader in the closing laps of Sunday’s race. But Dixon and Kanaan believe murky rules mean the leader could potentially block attempts at a pass for the win without risking a penalty from race control. “We haven’t gotten clarification on that. You can defend now,” Dixon said. If blocking occurs, Kanaan hopes it is fair. “I don’t think it’s fair enough sometimes to be the leader that he’ll be exposed and he’s going to lose the race because he was in the lead. It does not make any sense,” Kanaan said. “There is a certain amount of defending that should be allowed.”
INDY IN (SLOPE)STYLE: Olympic snowboarder Nick Goepper, who took home the bronze medal at the Sochi Games, stopped by the speedway to check out the festivities. Goepper grew up near Cincinnati in Lawrenceburg, just on the Indiana side of the state line, and plans to watch Sunday’s race from the infield pagoda. “I remember the movie ‘Rush’ that came out, the whole racing atmosphere. These guys are incredible drivers,” Goepper said. “They have so much composure. It’s amazing.”
GETTING COMFORTABLE: Paul Tracy still wants to be in a race car, but his time appears to have passed. Now, the popular Tracy has landed a part-time gig with NBC Sports Network. The original deal called for Tracy to work in the booth for six races, but it was expanded to include NBC’s limited coverage of preparations for the Indianapolis 500, as well as two additional events later this season. Tracy said he struggled initially, but “I’ll get it figured out.”