Raphael Matos earned 12th place on the grid for his first Indianapolis 500 after being fastest on the second day of qualifying. But the big drama of the session came at the other end of the field, as Panther Racing's Scott Sharp squeezed in at the expense of E.J. Viso in the final seconds with his third qualifying attempt of the day.
Having failed to qualify yesterday following a Friday practice crash, Sharp was twice been bumped out of the pack today before finally getting in a last-gasp attempt just as the gun fired to mark the end of second qualifying at 6 p.m. local time. He duly grabbed 20th, and can now concentrate on the Miller Motorsports Park American Le Mans Series race next weekend as planned rather than still having to qualify for Indy.
Luczo Dragon driver Matos' 223.429mph run would have put him a superb seventh on the grid had he produced it yesterday, although with less wind at the track today the conditions were arguably better than on Pole Day.
"It's hard to compare like that because the conditions were definitely worse yesterday," he admitted. "It doesn't matter because we made a change in the car overnight and the change worked, and that's what counts."
Paul Tracy also comfortably booked a place in the starting line-up by taking 13th for KV Racing -- after asking permission from sponsor GEICO to use another set of tires, having been disappointed with his first qualifying run of the day.
"The format makes your mouth dry and your nerves get up," Tracy said. "To do it once is OK, but having to hang on four or eight or 12 times is a different story."
Foyt driver Vitor Meira took 14th, with Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing) the fastest of those relying on just one qualifying run as he claimed 15th. He had initially been 12th, before being pushed back as Matos, Tracy and Meira withdrew their initial times and tried again.
Row six will be shared by Hideki Mutoh (Andretti Green), Ed Carpenter (Vision) and 2005 race winner Dan Wheldon (Panther) - the latter making up for crashing on a qualifying lap yesterday.
Series returnee A.J. Foyt IV took 19th on his second qualifying attempt, having earlier brushed the wall on his first run.
Davey Hamilton was the sole member of the Dreyer & Reinbold quartet to get into the field today, taking 22nd behind Sharp and Sarah Fisher.
Hamilton's team-mate John Andretti was bumped out of the day's top 11 and then crashed on a practice lap before he could try to qualify again. Milka Duno was too slow to make the cut today, while Mike Conway spent the afternoon in hospital for observation, having bruised his lungs in his morning practice accident.
Viso spent much of the afternoon "on the bubble" in 22nd, and was only finally knocked out when Sharp raised his game for his final run.
Following their crashes yesterday both Nelson Philippe (HVM) and Robert Doornbos (Newman/Haas/Lanigan) had to sit out today's session and will rely on getting in the field on the final weekend.
Ryan Hunter-Reay waved off a late qualifying attempt for Vision Racing, as his lack of pace from practice continued. Alex Tagliani's qualifying effort was also too slow, despite his Conquest team doing a fine job to get the car rebuilt in time for a last-gasp run after his accident in the warm-up.
The final 11 places on the 33-car grid will be set next weekend. Although only 31 cars have practiced so far, several additional entries are expected to join for the second week, including Townsend Bell in a third KV car, Oriol Servia with Rahal Letterman Racing, and 1996 winners Buddy Lazier and Hemelgarn Racing.Current Indianapolis 500 grid:
Pos Driver Team Speed
1. Helio Castroneves Penske 224.864mph
2. Ryan Briscoe Penske 224.083mph
3. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 224.010mph
4. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan 223.954mph
5. Scott Dixon Ganassi 223.867mph
6. Tony Kanaan Andretti Green 223.612mph
7. Mario Moraes KV 223.331mph
8. Marco Andretti Andretti Green 223.114mph
9. Will Power Penske 223.028mph
10. Danica Patrick Andretti Green 222.882mph
11. Alex Lloyd Schmidt/Ganassi 222.622mph
12. Raphael Matos Luczo Dragon 223.429mph
13. Paul Tracy KV 223.111mph
14. Vitor Meira Foyt 223.054mph
15. Justin Wilson Coyne 222.903mph
16. Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green 222.805mph
17. Ed Carpenter Vision 222.780mph
18. Dan Wheldon Panther 222.777mph
19. AJ Foyt IV Foyt 222.586mph
20. Scott Sharp Panther 222.162mph
21. Sarah Fisher Fisher 222.082mph
22. Davey Hamilton Dreyer & Reinbold 221.956mph