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Bump Day is now Pole Day, Pole Day was Bump Day at the Indianapolis 500

The bastion of tradition, the place where new ideas are looked on with suspicion, the Indianapolis 500 has revamped qualifications for the 98th running of the iconic race.

In years past, Day 1 of qualifications was Saturday, also known as Pole Day. The fastest runner on Saturday — the driver who completed 4 laps faster than anyone else — was determined to be the pole sitter, and they got as many drivers qualified as possible.

On Day 2 — Bump Day — the remaining drivers fought to be in the field of 33. If there were more than 33, than the driver sitting in 33rd was "on the bubble," and driver after driver would try to pick him or her off, and bump them out of the field. So Bump Day was pretty exciting, because everyone was scrambling to qualify and then tweak the engine to get even a little more speed out of the car.

Compare that to the very first two races of Indy 500 history. NBC researcher Rick Schaffer says that the starting field of 40 drivers was determined by who mailed in their entry first.

But this year is completely different. This year everything has changed, and Bump Day, such as it was, was yesterday. Pole Day is today.

Yesterday, 33 drivers competed for a spot in the 33 driver field. If there had been more drivers, we would have had some bumping, but the drivers were only racing to make the top 9 spots If you were 10th through 33rd, it didn't matter. There was no bumping, so there was no last minute racing to try to bump #33 out and you in.

That Brings Us To Today: Pole Day

This year, Sunday is Pole Day. Today is when the top 9 drivers from yesterday (led by Ed Carpenter, who qualified with a 2:36.0735 and 230.661 mph). And today is the day when drivers 10 – 30 compete for their starting spot in the field next Sunday. Numbers 31 – 33 would usually compete for their spots separately.

Here's what the Indianapolis 500 Qualifying 101 cheat sheet says about how it works:

Group 1 (Positions 10 – 30)

  • All Saturday times are erased and positions 10 – 30 will re-qualify to determine starting position.
  • Order will be the reverse of Saturday's rankings.
  • All cars will make one attempt.
  • Lineup will be determined based on fastest four-lap averages.
  • In the event that there are only 33 cars entered, this group will determine positions 10 – 33.

Group 2 (Positions 31 - 33):

  • All Saturday times are erased and positions 31 - 33 and any entry that has yet to make one attempt to qualify, will then qualify to determine the 11th row of the race.
  • Teams cam make multiple attempts.

Group 3 (Top Nine Shootout)

  • The top nine cars will run in reverse order based on Saturday's times.
  • All cars will make one attempt.
  • At the end of the session, the cars are ranked 1 – 9 based on their four-lap average during the session.

This year, since there were only 33 cars to enter, there is no group 2. So right now, Sage Karam, Sebastian Saavedra, and Buddy Lazier are sitting in the last row, even though Alex Tagliani, Martin Plowman(R), and Buddy Lazier were there as of yesterday. Lazier apparently did not manage to improve his situation. He'll remain in 33rd unless one of the other drivers blows his qualifying run. (I say "his," because this year's only female driver, Pippa Mann, has already run.)

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