John Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay described Indianapolis 500 bump day as one of the toughest experiences of their careers after scraping onto the grid in the closing minutes of qualifying.
Andretti, who had tried and failed to get into the field with a quarter of an hour remaining, tried one last time and made it with three minutes to spare with a four-lap average of 221.316 mph. Hunter-Reay, who had been bumped by Andretti's effort, then went back out and bumped Alex Tagliani from the event.
"When I came here, I thought, 'I wonder if we can make the top 11,'" said Andretti, who is driving the No. 43 Dreyer and Reinbold entry backed by NASCAR legend Richard Petty. "After the first day of practice, I thought, 'I wonder if we can make the top 20.' Today I was just wondering if we could make the field at all."
Hunter-Reay, the 2008 race's rookie of the year, has struggled all month to find speed in the No. 21 Vision Racing Dallara-Honda. When it mattered this afternoon he found just enough - 220.597 mph for four laps - to get the 33rd starting position back.
"That was the hairiest day I've ever had," Hunter-Reay said. "I've never been so happy to be in last place in all my life."
His effort gave the race its tightest field in history: just 3.0967 seconds separate pole winner Helio Castroneves from the final starter.
Tomas Scheckter might also have been involved in the last minute bumping but for his decision to take the No. 19 Dale Coyne entry back on track 45 minutes from the end. As the next car on the bubble, Scheckter went back out and dramatically improved his speed from Saturday, recording the fastest four-lap average of Sunday's session and nailing down the 26th starting position.
"Qualifying around here is the toughest," Scheckter said. "We thought we were safe, but then people started going quick. I said, 'Guys, let's get the qualifying set-up back on the car and get it back to the pad.'"
In addition to the bumped Tagliani, 1996 winner Buddy Lazier and rookie Stanton Barrett also failed to qualify, while Tagliani's teammate Bruno Junqueira made it into the race with a single qualifying run this afternoon, having only finalized his deal with Conquest yesterday.