Published May 24, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul Tracy had one of the fastest cars during practice for the Indianapolis 500 only a few days ago.
That's what made his failure to qualify for the race so difficult to stomach.
"The team did everything they could," said Tracy, who finished second in 2002 and ninth last year. "I drove the wheels off it. And I don't know what to say."
Tracy withdrew a qualifying time that would have put him into the race in an attempt to post an even faster time. His strategy backfired, and he knocked himself out. Jay Howard did the same on Sunday — opening the door for rookie Sebastian Saavedra to back his way into the field.
The situation reduced Tracy, one of IndyCar's tough guys, to tears.
"I'm a little bit numb right now, disappointed," he said. "We were on track, and we were trying to do it. And it's harder to walk away, you know."
Milka Duno and Jaques Lazier also failed on the last day of qualifying for this Sunday's race. Long faces were plentiful in the garages on Monday, knowing that there would be no reward for more than a week's worth of preparation.
Tracy had the second-fastest lap Thursday, but he scraped the wall and damaged the lower right rear wishbone on his No. 15 car in practice Friday. Mechanics had him back on the track on Saturday morning, and he had a fast lap of 223.435 miles per hour during practice. When it was time to qualify, he went out for his warmup lap but never took the green flag and pulled into pits after getting stuck in neutral. He got back on the track later, but he didn't qualify.
He went back out on Sunday, the final day of qualifying, and posted a time good enough to make the field. Indy's Bump Day format is set up so the lowest qualifier can be knocked out of the field of 33 if someone else qualifies faster before the 6 p.m. cutoff. Tracy withdrew his time to try to increase his speed and protect himself against other cars that appeared to be threatening his position.
He never had control of the car on his final run, nearly hitting the outside wall several times before waving the attempt off, leaving him out of the top 33 and without time for another run.
"I just about touched on every lap," he said. "And it was sliding. I was on the verge of crashing every corner. So I was able to keep it off the wall and not destroy the car."
He didn't assign blame for the decision to take another shot. Another driver, Mario Romancini, did the same thing and moved up several positions.
"We felt at the time there we were pretty safe where we were," Tracy said. "It turns out, we still would have been in. But it's a team decision. And we worked as a team all week, and we made decisions as a team."
Tony Kanaan, who qualified on the final day, said he knew withdrawing the time wasn't Tracy's choice. He thought his longtime friend had made the field.
"I realized actually in my interview that he was out of it because I didn't even see it," Kanaan said. "Too bad. I think it was a bad call on their part. But that's racing."
Eric Haverson, chief mechanic for KV Racing Technology, said Tracy's team will take the car apart at its Indianapolis headquarters to have parts ready for the team's other three cars that qualified. He much rather would have had Tracy join Mario Moraes, E.J. Viso and Takuma Sato in the race.
"Without question, it's a disappointment," Haverson said Monday as the team was packing up. "We were all disappointed to not be able to get in the show. We got right up to the end of the line, and to not be able to get a shot. We just have to rebound, go to Toronto and Edmonton and have good races there."
Howard appeared to be in, but he knocked himself out, too.
"I didn't think this would happen," Howard said afterward.
Howard said he had a problem with his car on its second-to-last attempt, but he felt it was easily fixable.
"I was confident with a small change we could easily go out and make the same time again.
"It was a joint decision to go back out," he said. "In those situations, what do you do? I wanted to put on a good show for the fans."
Duno would have been the fifth woman to qualify for this year's race, but she completed just one of the mandatory four laps during her final run and never had the speed to make a real push for a spot.
Lazier replaced A.J. Foyt IV on the final day of qualifying, but he couldn't get enough speed in his only day with the car.
"As competitive as this field is, we had an uphill battle," Lazier said. "We kept getting real close. We just got right to the edge."
The biggest surprise by far was Tracy, a 41-year-old veteran who has earned $1.4 million at the track over the years.
"I was hoping to get the job done, and that wasn't the case," he said. "You can't really prepare yourself for that situation."