As I experienced the excitement and disappointment of Saturday’s Pole Day qualifying – and then watched the ups and downs of Bump Day – I came to further understand the positive and negative emotions that come from the Indianapolis 500.
I experienced both feelings in a very short period of time Saturday. Just when it looked like I had enough to get on the front row, my car ran out of fuel. I went from hopeful to devastated in a matter of seconds. Instead of starting third, I’ll start ninth. Not the end of the world, but not a positive development, either.
Throughout the weekend, I saw the same swings from other competitors – drivers and crew members and engineers and team owners – and I came to further understand the importance of this race and what it means to the people involved.
You realize what racing means thorough personal experience. When I went through my first Bump Day in 2002, I was in the same position as the guys who got their way into it during Sunday's Bump Day. Allen McDonald, my engineer at the time, knows all about the four laps we did then. It was on the edge and totally heart-wrenching.
Then I had the joy of winning it for the first time in 2007, a different emotional experience altogether. Every time you come here and you go through the race or Pole Day or Bump Day, you understand that rise and fall of emotions of this event. It happens to all of us.
In qualifying, you’re always on the limit. Whether it’s trying to get the pole or the front row, you’re on the absolute limit, but in some cases you’re sliding the car around and balancing it on a knife’s edge.
On Saturday, I experienced positive and negative emotions quickly. I went from the joy of a possible front-row run to the devastation of running out of fuel. But I also saw Sam Schmidt’s face when he realized his car won the pole, and then Alex Tagliani came out and celebrated with him. It was a magic moment. Later, I saw Allen, now the lead engineer with Schmidt’s team, and I could feel how much it meant to him. You see both positive and negative emotions here, often at the time.
This race means so much to so many people – fans especially. But it’s really important to the people who come here from around the world to compete in it. It’s not just about the guys who have done it before many times and are trying to do it again, like A.J. Foyt, but it’s about the guys who just want to be here for the first time. You saw a guy like James Jakes who went out on Bump Day and tried his best to make it, but he just didn’t manage it. It meant so much to him, just as it means to all of us. It’s that important.
You have one chance to win this race, and that’s next Sunday, and you had one chance to win the pole, and that was Saturday. It’s very, very intense on both weekends. Sunday is only going to ratchet it up again. It’s crazy. It will be all out, as it always is, and we will see the best and worst of emotions.
My starting position for the race is OK, but I’m greedy. Both Team Target cars were capable of the front row. If my teammate, Scott Dixon, hadn’t run out of fuel at the very end, he probably would have won the pole. I can still win it from ninth, but it’s slightly more difficult than winning it from third.
So many things have to go right in this race. Having a fast car is the first thing you have to do. That gives you a chance. And then all the other things have to go right. Then you might have a chance – just a chance – to win it.
It’s been a crazy couple of weeks for all of us at Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Look at the emotion we’ve had already. We thought we were in good shape for the front row, but suddenly we weren’t. That’s a difficult swing to take, emotionally.
Our mistake wasn’t a miscalculation; it was a communication breakdown. The engineers thought the car had the fuel from the first qualifying run, but the guys had pumped it out. X amount of fuel was supposed to be in the car, but it wasn’t.
It’s funny, you forget about how difficult this place is. I was halfway through qualifying and I was like, “Really?” You forget how on the edge you have to be. I was on the edge, and then it just stopped. I was in shock.
Honestly, I was absolutely furious at first. I’d been on the edge again and had a good chance for a front-row spot. When I came back to the transporter, I just camped out for five minutes. I got a bit of perspective. I sat here for a few minutes, and then I was better.
There’s the old adage that you win as a team and you lose as a team. That’s the thought that came to my mind after it happened. Sometimes you make mistakes individually, but you still make mistakes as a whole. What happened Saturday is no different than me screwing up in a race or qualifying, both of which I’ve done before. I’ve made mistakes that cost the team when they delivered a perfectly good car.
Even the best make mistakes, and these guys are the best. Whatever happened, we’ll figure it out and go back out there and do our very best to win the race.
But yeah, it hurt. It really hurt. All part of the swig of emotions of Indy.