INDIANAPOLIS – Once again, Chip Ganassi Racing will start the Indianapolis 500 packed close together.
Unfortunately, for the foursome, that proximity is in the middle of the pack.
Hopes of cracking the top nine and claiming a front-row view were quashed Saturday during pole qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a gaggle of faster Chevrolets left Ganassi's Hondas behind as the first 24 slots were decided.
Defending champion Dario Franchitti was 17th after posting a four-lap average of 226.069 mph in his No. 10 Honda. Teammate Scott Dixon was one spot better in the No. 9 at 226.158.
Charlie Kimball was 19th in Ganassi's No. 83 (225.880), and Ryan Briscoe's third attempt claimed 23rd for the No. 8 (225.265).
Of course, Franchitti and Dixon started far back last year before finishing 1-2.
And Franchitti, the three-time Indy champion, believes CGR is capable of another recovery on May 26.
"If we're going to be in a difficult spot, these are the guys I'd like to be with," Franchitti said. "They've proven time and time again they can get out of it, whether it's championship runs or Indy 500s. When the pressure's on, these are the guys you want."
Franchitti just wishes the team didn't have to climb out of another hole.
As a whole, the Hondas were no match for the Chevys, which claimed the top 10 spots with Ed Carpenter claiming the pole at 228.762. Alex Tagliani had the fastest Honda, clocking 227.386 in Barracuda Racing's No. 98 for the 11th position.
Ganassi's challenges were apparent from the start of qualifying as Dixon went out first after a 2 1/2 hour rain delay. While it wasn't shocking that subsequent entrants beat the 2008 Indy 500 champion's four-lap average of 226.158 as track conditions improved, seeing Dixon ultimately left 16th was a bit of a surprise.
Ditto for Franchitti, who felt good about his and the team's chances after he, Briscoe and Dixon finished in the top 10 in Saturday's final practice before qualifying on the 2.5-mile oval. However, adjustments to his and Dixon's cars didn't work as planned, leaving them with salvaging the best positions they could get.
Things were even tougher for Kimball and especially Briscoe, back with Ganassi after spending the past five seasons driving for Roger Penske.
Kimball was in the field but looked vulnerable. Briscoe meanwhile was bumped from the field after the first qualifying session and needed a third attempt to get back in.
Briscoe succeeded, bumping Ana Beatriz from the field and being very happy with it.
"It was a tough day," the Australian said. "There was intense competition out there and we just didn't have the speed. ... But we're in the race, so now the focus shifts to the race and where we're strong to be ready for next Sunday."
Dixon, Franchitti and Kimball seemed just as determined to better their times, sitting in their cars hoping for another qualifying run. But as the shadows grew deeper over the frontstretch and the deadline neared for the fastest cars to take another stab at the pole, all they could do was get out of their cars and yield to those who were having far better days.
To hear Franchitti, in the midst of a tough season where he's ranked 15th in points, he seems to be right where he wants to be.
Starting 16th last May, the Scot ended up with his third Indy win and can join A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser as four-time champions. This week offers an opportunity to make up ground with the car's setup while next Sunday provides another chance to finish better than he started.
Franchitti will have plenty of teammates joining him in that pursuit.