Sharp Bumps Into Indy Field With Dramatic Last-Gasp Run

Sunday, May 10, 2009

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Sure, Scott Sharp has made 13 Indianapolis 500 starts, including being the 2001 pole sitter. Yes, he's made and IndyCar Series-high 146 starts and was the 1996 series co-champion. Of course, he's been in pressure-packed situations in an auto racing career that spans three decades.

But little - if anything -- in his immediate recollection can match the drama that unfolded in the waning moments of Second Day qualifications Sunday, May 10 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when Sharp beat the clock.

Sharp, bumped from the 22nd and final position available for the day by A.J. Foyt IV (222.586 mph four-lap average) with 24 minutes left in the six-hour session, re-qualified for the May 24 race with a white-knuckle 222.162 mph average. That put him 20th on the grid and bumped E.J. Viso (221.745).

"I'm sitting in the tech line saying: 'I'm done. I'm coming back. I have to rent a plane from Utah on Friday night and go back on Saturday (to qualify),''' said Sharp, who has a race commitment this weekend with his American Le Mans Series team. "I just prayed, and the car was the best it has been all day.

"It's great on our third attempt to finally pull it off at the 6 o'clock (gun)."

Viso will join at least a dozen drivers who will attempt to qualify May 16-17. Hamilton (221.956) will start 22nd and Fisher (222.082) is 21st.

"There was a lot of drama going on, and things obviously didn't end up as we all wanted," said Viso, who will attempt to make his second 500 Mile Race start in the No. 13 PDVSA HVM Racing car. "But we knew that being in the 21st, 22nd position is a very vulnerable position and anything could happen. And it happened just in the last minute, and that's a sad thing because we didn't have time to go back out and defend ourselves."

Raphael Matos posted the best - and most consistent - four laps of the day to claim the 12th position and become the fastest rookie qualifier (223.429 mph). Paul Tracy (223.111), Vitor Meira (223.054) and Justin Wilson (222.903) will share Row 5. Hideki Mutoh (222.805) and Ed Carpenter (222.780) - both bumped on Pole Day qualifying, will be on Row 6 with 2005 race winner Dan Wheldon (222.777). Foyt will join Sharp and Fisher on Row 7.

"The team did a great job, and the second qualifying effort was a lot better," said Tracy, who moved up four positions with his second attempt of the day. "We had done 223 mph earlier in practice, but it just didn't go right in the first qualifying attempt. We were slipping down the grid, so we decided to make another attempt."

Less than two-tenths of a second - over the 10-mile run - separated the cumulative times of Matos and Hamilton. The day also produced five cars bumped, two of which (Sharp and Foyt) re-entered the field. Also looking to the second weekend will be Tagliani, Ryan-Hunter Reay, John Andretti and Milka Duno (all of whom either were bumped or waved off on their qualifying attempt because of a lack of speed).

Andretti's No. 43 Window World-sponsored car for Petty Enterprises/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing made contact with the Turn 1 SAFER Barrier at 4:45 p.m. as the veteran searched for speed to make another qualifying attempt. Graham Rahal made a superb, spinning evasive maneuver to avoid Andretti's car.

The end-of-day drama augmented a weekend of angst for Sharp, driver of the No. 16 Tequila Patron Panther Racing car. He crashed in practice May 8, and the Panther Racing crew worked overnight to repair and prepare the car for Pole Day qualifications. But when Month of May teammate Wheldon's No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car also smacked the SAFER Barrier in practice May 9, a triage was set up to attend to getting that car back on the track.

"We always thought we would have a good race car once the race comes, but we had to be in the race," said Sharp, who last competed in the '500' in 2007 (fourth-place finish with Rahal Letterman Racing). "It's been a tough week, let me tell you. With all my experience, I guess leaning on that, I figured I'd comeback in and pretty easily get up to speed. I didn't know, obviously, if we'd be a first- or second-row contender, but thought if things really fell into place we would be a top-10 car.

"I've never been more happy I think to be 20th."

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing driver Mike Conway was admitted to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis and being treated for bruised lungs after a morning practice crash. He's listed in good condition.


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