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.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’

Photo: Chris Estrada, NBC Sports
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NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”