As the day went on, the possibility that Tony Kanaan might not make it into the Indianapolis 500 grew with every rising degree of mercury in the thermometer. So much for possibilities. Kanaan, who crashed twice in less than 24 hours, qualified a backup car that utilized pieces from other Andretti Autosport cars with 30 minutes left in Sunday's final session and will start 32nd in next week's 94th Indianapolis 500.
Kanaan, who has led laps in six of his seven Indy 500s but hasn't won, was – momentarily, anyway – in serious jeopardy of not making the field. He crashed Saturday during Pole Day, and, because Andretti Autosport fielded five cars for this year's race, the team didn't have a rolling backup ready for its ace driver. That kept Kanaaan from qualifying among the top 24, and relegated him to a field-filling role for Sunday's Bump Day activities. But another crash in Sunday morning's practice session left Kanaan wondering if he might have to sit out this Indy 500.
"It's tough to keep it cool and say, 'Yeah, we're just going to go out at 5. It's the last day. You're not in the field yet. You just crashed two cars. Just stay cool,'" Kanaan said. "That's what Steve Horne was telling me the whole time."
While Kanaan recovered to qualify for the race as the temperature soared into the upper 80s, Paul Tracy did not. Tracy withdrew from the 33rd and final starting spot in an attempt to improve his speed and protect himself from further bumping, but the gamble backfired. Jay Howard did the same thing minutes later and also failed to improve, a decision that put Sebastian Saavedra back into the field after he'd crashed his car while practicing little more than an hour before the end of the session.
Tracy fought back tears after the attempt, asking reporters, "Why the long faces?" Seconds later, his voice cracked. "It's hard to walk away, you know?" he said. "The team did everything they could. I drove the wheels off it. I don't know what to say."
Fifteen minutes after Kanaan made it into the race, former F1 driver Takuma Sato secured the 31st starting position with a four-lap average of 224.178mph in the No. 5 KV Racing Technology Dallara-Honda. "Now I'm going the proper direction," Sato said, referring to the clockwise direction used for the Speedway's road course during the U.S. Grand Prix, "but I probably don't understand 100 percent what it's going to be like on race day."
After Sato's run, Jay Howard then returned to the track to bump his way back in, but couldn't top Tracy's previous effort. Tracy then took a gamble with 10 minutes left in the session and withdrew his speed in an attempt to improve or protect his position. That put Howard back in the 33rd and final position. After two laps in the 223mph range, Tracy waved off his effort, effectively ending his chance to get into the race.
"The frustrating part is that the speed was in the car at various times in the day," Tracy said. "All week, the car was 225s, 226s. Two days ago we were second-quickest on track. We ran a 225 this morning, but when the temperature came up, we lost the handle on the car and couldn't get it back."
After Jaques Lazier and Milka Duno waved off attempts, Howard, with Tracy behind him in line, withdrew his speed and went back on the track with just three minutes left. That move put Saavedra, who by then had been taken to Methodist Hospital for treatment of back pain sustained in the crash, back on the bubble. When Howard couldn't top Saavedra's four-lap run of 223.634mph from earlier in the day, Saavedra and Bryan Herta Autosport suddenly – and rather inexplicably – found itself back in the Indy 500.
Meanwhile, the decision cost Sarah Fisher Racing a chance to put two cars in the race. "It cuts deep," said Fisher, who qualified 29th earlier in the day. "It was the best decision we had to make."
Lost in the late-day drama was the early afternoon drama of Bruno Junqueira, who nabbed the best available starting position on Bump Day – 25th – with a four-lap average of 225.662mph in the No. 33 FAZZT Race Team Dallara-Honda. The surprise wasn't that Junqueira was fastest of the day, but that he was fastest of the day after just six practice laps, only two of which were at speed.
"Last year I did 12 or 14 practice laps before I qualified," Junqueira said. "Next year I'm going to go directly to the car for qualifying. I broke my record for fewest laps to put a car in the field."
Alex Lloyd qualified 26th in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Dallara-Honda, while Mario Romancini put the No. 34 Conquest Racing Dallara-Honda in the 27th position. John Andretti will start 28th in the the No. 43 Richard Petty/Andretti Autosport Dallara-Honda, followed by Sarah Fisher and Vitor Meira.
A.J. Foyt IV's combative relationship with his grandfather surfaced again when Foyt IV apparently walked out on the attempt to get the No. 41 A.J.Foyt Enterprises Dallara-Honda into the field. "He wasn't happy with the car," A.J. Foyt said of his grandson, who was replaced by Lazier and was one of three cars that didn't make the race, the others being Howard's and Duno's.
Sunday's primary storyline, though – whether Kanaan would make it into the race – held up throughout the day and continued long after the Brazilian had completed his live local TV appearance and straggling fans still shouted his name, not entirely knowing what he'd gone through to deserve the cheers.
"In the heat of the day, we made five attempts with five sets of new tires, and I couldn't make it a single lap," Kanaan explained. "The car was horrible. I was going to crash every lap, so I came back in. I think I held up pretty well. There is a difference between being calm and knowing you might not make it and losing your composure and going out there and crashing."