Why Pole Day at Indianapolis is still one of racing’s greatest days

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So, you’re wondering if Indianapolis 500 Pole Day still registers? Let me explain the ways it does.

  • Pole at Indy gets you a week’s worth of media attention and spotlight usually reserved only for race winners. In some respects, pole at Indy gets more attention than some race wins over the course of the season.
  • The format has changed to where you need to register not one, but at least two perfect runs to score the pole position.
  • Every starting position pays points, which could make the difference at the end of the season.
  • It’s the toughest 4 laps and 2 minutes, 40 seconds an IndyCar driver will do all year.

Here’s what you can see, with qualifying on Saturday on the NBC Sports Network at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET, and Sunday at noon ET. Qualifying will also be live streamed both days on NBC Sports Live Extra for mobile devices.

The build-up to Pole Day at Indy has been reduced in recent years, but come today, it’s all out preparation. One day of dialing in qualifying setups, thanks to the extra boost provided by IndyCar to the two engine manufacturers, will see the field truly “on it” for the first time all week.

The format of qualifying has evolved from where each car only had three attempts total for the month, to having multiple attempts per day. That may make it seem like there’s less pressure in that if you screw up, you have more chances to redeem yourself. But what it can do is amplify the pressure because you can take multiple shots at the pole, if you and the team so desire.

Qualifying begins Saturday morning and after several hours, the top 24 on the grid will be set and the fastest nine advance to a 90-minute shootout. There, all nine cars will have at least one attempt for the pole, slotted from slowest to fastest. And once they’re all through, if anyone cares to have a crack at P1, they can go for it.

And to explain the magnitude, again, of an Indy pole, look no further than last year’s polesitter, Ryan Briscoe. Briscoe almost certainly earned more attention on a national level for taking the pole here than he did for winning the race at Sonoma at August, which strangely, marks the last race a Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing-entered car won in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Briscoe should be among those with a chance on Saturday. He has the motivation of wanting to beat Penske, his former team, as he’s back in the Ganassi stable this month.

But when you factor in the quintet of Andretti Autosport drivers, the veterans from Penske and Ganassi, the rising stars of the sport like Takuma Sato, JR Hildebrand and Josef Newgarden or veterans like Tony Kanaan, Alex Tagliani and Oriol Servia, you suddenly have anywhere from 15 to 20 drivers who could contend for the fast nine. And from there, you have to boil it down even further to find a possible polesitter.

There are no guarantees. But there is prestige for whoever secures the top spot.

Rick Mears is perhaps the Speedway’s greatest master. He’s one of three four-time race winners, and a legend alone in qualifying as the only driver in history with six poles. In an interview he did with the IMS website in 2011 for its list of “The Greatest 33” in Indy history, he explained the magnitude of pole at Indianapolis.

“Qualifying at Indy is the pressure cooker of anything I’ve ever done,” he said at the time. “The race is 500 miles to get it sorted. But qualifying is intense – that is, if you’re in the hunt. You have to run four laps – not just the best of two. You’ve got four laps and there’s no doing it over. If you blow one corner, you’ve blown all four laps. That’s the pressure cooker, but I loved it. It’s the most pressure but the most fun. In the race, you just see what you have and then dial it from there.”

Mears is a champion, a gentleman, and perhaps the greatest sage when it comes to those four laps on Pole Day. Nail it right this year, and you’ll be entered into history among the greats on Saturday at Indianapolis.

NBC Sports Network’s Indy 500 Qualifying Coverage (subject to change, all times ET):

Date Coverage Time Commentators
Sat., May 18 Qualifying 11 a.m. Leigh Diffey, Gil de Ferran, Jon Beekhuis, Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Robin Miller, Will Buxton
Sat., May 18 Qualifying 4:30 p.m. Leigh Diffey, Gil de Ferran, Jon Beekhuis, Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Robin Miller, Will Buxton
Sun., May 19 Qualifying Noon Leigh Diffey, Gil de Ferran, Jon Beekhuis, Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Robin Miller, Will Buxton

F1 Mexican Grand Prix on NBC, NBCSN, App this week

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Lewis Hamilton is poised to wrap his fourth Formula 1 World Championship early at this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix, as NBC Sports covers the 18th of 20 rounds this season from the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

Expanded TV coverage comes this weekend on NBC, NBCSN and the NBC Sports App.

All sessions will air live. Both Friday practice sessions are live on NBCSN at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET. Saturday third practice airs live via the NBC Sports App at 11 a.m. ET with a practice replay show at 12:30 p.m. before live qualifying at 2 p.m. ET, those two on NBCSN.

On Sunday, race day, F1 Countdown starts at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC leading to lights out and the race at 3 p.m. ET. Post-race coverage continues on NBC for one hour, from 5 to 6 p.m. ET.

Mercedes AMG Petronas has won both Mexican Grands Prix since the race was reinstated in 2015 after a 23-year hiatus. Nico Rosberg won in 2015 a race after Hamilton had clinched that year’s title, while Hamilton won last year in a 1-2 with Rosberg continuing to close on his first title.

Controversy reined about third place in Mexico last year with all of Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and ultimately Daniel Ricciardo ending in third, Ricciardo getting the podium after post-race penalties were assessed to the other two. Valtteri Bottas is the other active podium finisher in Mexico, having come third in 2015 with Williams.

Vettel enters Mexico 66 points behind Hamilton and can only keep the title alive to Brazil if he gets the gap under 50 points; any top-five finish for Hamilton will ensure the Englishman equals Vettel on four titles. So if Vettel doesn’t finish first or second, he can’t score enough points (either 25 or 18) to get that gap under 50 markers.

Last year’s race featured a bit of a “Noah’s Ark” finishing order with just the top five teams in the championship scoring points at this race, almost in descending order of just two-by-two. It was two Mercedes, then two Red Bulls, then two Ferraris, then Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India before the two Williams, and finally hometown hero Sergio Perez in the second Force India.

Perez is the lone home favorite this race with Esteban Gutierrez not on the grid this season.

Here’s the F1 schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, Oct. 27, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 2: Friday, Oct. 27, 3 p.m.-4:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, Oct. 28, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 3 (Replay): Saturday, Oct. 28, 12:30 p.m.-2 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, Oct. 28, 2 p.m.-3:45 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 2:30 p.m.-3 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 3 p.m.-5 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 5 p.m.-6 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, Oct. 29, 8:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Brazilian Grand Prix, on November 12.