INDIANAPOLIS — Well, it is another busy week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, leading up to the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500. I’m not complaining.
Last Sunday, we captured our second consecutive pole position for the biggest race. Winning the pole here is probably bigger than winning any other race in the Verizon IndyCar Series except the Indy 500.
But we won at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this year with Mike Conway and that might be the second biggest race to win on our circuit. Of course, Indy is the biggest race to win and that is my goal this Sunday.
Last week was a little different because we had quite a bit of rain that hurt our track time. But I think we did a good job with myself and my teammate, J.R. Hildebrand, in preparing for the race.
There are always two events at Indy — first the run for the pole position and then the race.
I’ll admit that sometimes the run in qualifying is much scarier than the race. Putting it on the edge for four laps at Indy is a thrill ride. You can ask any driver who has ever qualified here. You hold your breath for some of those laps.
This year’s qualifying was different, too. You had to qualify on Saturday for your position for Sunday. If you made the Fast Nine on Saturday, you were secured in the first three rows. So you needed to be on your game immediately.
We were the fifth car to qualify on Saturday and we put up a good number with 230 mph plus average. But the conditions got better later in the day so we had to run again just secure a top nine. And, on that four-lap average, it was 230.661. That was No. 1 going into Sunday’s Shootout.
But it was heart-pumping at the end of Saturday for the Ed Carpenter Racing team since J.R. was in the No. 9 position and guys were throwing out their speeds to try to bump out J.R. out of the Fast Nine Shootout. Luckily, no one could do it, but I bet it was good TV for the race fans. That qualifying line was moving rapidly and we had J.R. in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Services Chevy and ready to go if needed.
On Sunday, we ran in the heat of the day for the Fast Nine, so the track temperature jumped to 107 degrees, some 30 degrees hotter than when Juan Pablo Montoya ran a 231. I was thinking that a 232 or 233 would be possible in the Shootout. The sun really baked the track surface and you saw a bunch of inconsistent qualifying laps in the Fast Nine.
When James Hinchcliffe opened up his run with 231.7, I was pretty nervous because J.R.’s run was only 228 when he we first out to qualify. And our setups were pretty close. But Hinch’s speed fell off on laps three and four and that gave us a shot for the pole.