Bump Day or Bust for 10 at Indy

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Some of the 10 drivers attempting to qualify on Sunday at Indianapolis are going through their first Bump Day. For others, this marks a wretched return experience. All but one will make the field, but for that one who doesn’t, it’s heartbreak.

Bump Day qualifying airs from noon to 6:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network, and live streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra.

Let’s break down the 10 drivers still needing to qualify today and their Bump Day histories:

  • Sebastian Saavedra, No. 6 Dragon Racing. In 2010, he backed his way into his first Indianapolis 500 when Jay Howard and Paul Tracy withdrew faster qualifying times, and Saavedra, watching from a hospital bed after an accident, was promoted into the field. Saavedra’s first IndyCar start was also the first for Bryan Herta Autosport. In 2011, he failed to qualify for Conquest Racing.
  • Graham Rahal, No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. In 2011, made it in the field in 29th place for Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing. His only prior Bump Day appearance in six 500 attempts. An unfortunate historical anecdote for Graham is that father Bobby failed to qualify for the 1993 Indianapolis 500, some 20 years ago.
  • Michel Jourdain Jr., No. 17 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Today marks his first Bump Day appearance in three attempts. Unfortunately, he needs to find some speed as has been struggling to break 220 mph.
  • Ana Beatriz, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing. Today marks her second Bump Day appearance in four attempts. The slowest qualifier in 2011, she did make the field in 33rd, promoted to 32nd when a driver change occurred in A.J. Foyt’s second car (Bruno Junqueira to Ryan Hunter-Reay).
  • Josef Newgarden, No. 21 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Today marks his first Bump Day appearance in two attempts. The fastest Honda qualifier a year ago, now Newgarden’s gotta stick it in the show on Sunday.
  • Conor Daly, No. 41 A.J. Foyt Racing. The 21-year-old rookie makes his first Bump Day appearance. A tough week has also included an accident and a mechanical issue during his qualifying run on Saturday.
  • Tristan Vautier, No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The 23-year-old rookie makes his first Bump Day appearance. Qualifying at Indy a far cry from consecutive Firestone Fast Six appearances to kick off his IndyCar career earlier this year.
  • Pippa Mann, No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing. Today marks her second Bump Day appearance in two attempts. Made it in in 2011, qualifying 31st.
  • Katherine Legge, No. 81 Schmidt Peterson Pelfrey Motorsports. Today marks her second Bump Day appearance in two attempts. Made it in last year, qualifying 30th.
  • Buddy Lazier, No. 91 Lazier Partners Racing (pictured). The 16-year Indy veteran was last in Bump Day in 2009, when he failed to qualify. In 2008, he turned in one of Bump Day’s most memorable runs with a car that had no business qualifying, and made the field in 32nd.

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (5)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Jack Harvey*

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate at this moment plans.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today but both acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.