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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Few Surprises Atop Practice Charts Heading Into Pole Day

Heading into today's Indianapolis 500 Pole Day, Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi own seven of the top 10 cars in combined practice results.

Each driver on the two teams - Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti, and Will Power - has placed a car in the top 10, with Castroneves and Dixon placing their backup cars in as well.

Tony Kanaan of Andretti Autosport is the best driver not to run for Penske or Ganassi, ranking third overall. He, Castroneves, and Dixon are the only three to break the 39.7 second mark for a single lap.

Paul Tracy sits in eighth with a hot lap of 39.7664, the best of the Indy 500 specials. Second best in that category is Graham Rahal, whose 39.9009 second lap leaves him in 16th. 17th, 18th, and 19th on the charts belong to three other Indy-only programs, those of Davey Hamilton, Ed Carpenter, and Townsend Bell.

Much has been made of the chances that five women may run in this year's Indianapolis 500; thus far, the fastest has been Swiss rookie Simona de Silvestro. Her 40.0288 second lap, turned in the sixth practice session, is good for 25th overall. Ana Beatriz, her closest female competition, is 34th, more than a tenth off the pace. Danica Patrick sits all the way back in 36th, and the fortunes of Milka Duno and Sarah Fisher have been even worse, with both mired in the bottom six cars.

Takuma Sato barely edged de Silvestro for top rookie honors over the past week, as the last driver (and only rookie) to break the 40 second barrier. He currently ranks 23rd. However, a practice crash earlier today may hamper his chances of qualifying today. The next best rookies are de Silvestro, Bertrand Baguette (30th), Beatriz, Jay Howard (37th), and Mario Romancini (38th).

37 cars will attempt to qualify in today's Pole Day sessions. For those that have not yet heard or grasped the new format, the top 24 cars will lock in their starting positions for the Indianapolis 500 today. Those sessions will take place between 11 am and 4 pm, and will be shown live on Versus. The fastest nine cars in today's session will then have their times erased, and be guaranteed to start no worse than ninth. They will make at least one qualifying attempt between 4:30 and 6 pm, with the fastest run during that time good for the pole. This year, qualifying for the 500 will also award points to the 33 drivers who make the field.

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