Coming into the Indianapolis 500 this year, obviously one big change was switching to Honda power for the Team Barracuda - Bryan Herta Autosport car. It started with a lot of work for everyone and definitely tested the dedication of the guys just to make this change possible. But enthusiasm is stronger than anything, and we are very excited. Going back to an engine manufacturer we're all familiar with was like a breath of fresh air. The team has had a great relationship with the Honda family and I've been with them since I started in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
We have high hopes, obviously. We put a lot of time and effort into making the switch. When we went to qualifying, we thought we might be down on speed too much to challenge for the pole, but I think at that stage it became more of a Honda team competition and we came out second quickest from that group, so it was a good effort.
It was a pretty interesting car to drive – probably the most nervous car I've ever driven on the oval – but we secured a decent spot on the grid. Eleventh is nothing to be ashamed of and we're ahead of some big names in big-budget teams. We missed the Fast Nine by 0.3 miles per hour and that speed was in the car, but it would've been too risky to withdraw our time and go back out for another try. I was very pleased with the pace we finally found just before qualifying.
The Indy 500 in general is so special. At one time, I never thought I was going to have the chance to run this race because I chose to race in CART and Champ Car; but after the merger, it became possible. So when I came here for the first time in 2009, I became Rookie of the Year, and last year I took pole position, so basically what I'm missing is the win! If I can win the Indy 500, I'll have pretty much everything that you can get from this place.
Carrying No. 98 makes me feel very honored. It was a number that brought Indianapolis success for Parnelli Jones and to Dan Wheldon so it seems to be a lucky number around here. Hopefully we can come out with very good results in memory and in honor of Dan for what he did last year with that number and with this great little team.
The Speedway always brings a lot of interesting moments during the month. It's a very intense place that tests your character and, because of everything we went through, it has definitely meant that we've bonded even more. We are showing that we're capable of a lot more in the right circumstances, and I'd say those right circumstances are coming fast. We just have to come out on top during race day.
The last day of practice was an amazing day. When you leave Sunday with a very good and strong feeling about your car in traffic, in race trim, the week leading up to the race becomes much more enjoyable. We're in a very good position, so we can't ask for more. We just need to have a clean race – no mistakes – and that should give us our shot at bringing home the win.
• RACER's latest issue looks at heroes in several disciplines, including Team Penske's Rick Mears, going into the Indianapolis 500. Click here to learn more.
CLICK HERE to subscribe to RACER at a 30 percent discount rate!