Pole Day drama unfolded under an overcast sky at the mecca of motorsports, culminating in one shot for nine drivers who proved themselves in Segment 1 of qualifications on the tempestuous 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
Nine drivers whose Chevrolet-powered cars bested the rest of the 33-driver field over four timed laps, seeking the Verizon P1 Award with its $100,000 bonus and 15 precious IZOD IndyCar Series championship points.
As if on cue, sunshine bathed Victory Circle just past 7:20 p.m. (ET) for Ed Carpenter to celebrate his first Indianapolis 500 pole with family (though his parents were in South Bend, Ind., to attend his sister's graduation from the University of Notre Dame), friends and tens of thousands of spectators.
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The lone team owner/driver in the IZOD IndyCar Series recorded a blistering four-lap average speed of 228.762 mph (best lap of 229.347 mph; 39.2418 seconds) in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka car. The one-car team bested the best of Team Penske and Andretti Autosport in the shootout.
"I love the race a whole lot more than qualifying. And I really want to send a message and make sure I lead by example and to the team so we don't forget why we are really here,” said Carpenter, an Indianapolis resident who won the series' last oval race last September at Auto Club Speedway. "This is fun and it's huge for our team. I don't want them thinking that it's not, but the pole won't mean much if we don't go out and perform on Race Day."
Carpenter’s previous best start at the Speedway was eighth in 2010 and '11; his best finish is fifth after starting 10th in 2008.
"I love it here, I love racing here, I love going fast here," he added. "It's cool to see the speeds climbing again. I've been in position to qualify in the top 10, but this is my first year where we had a chance at pole and I thought, and really believed, that we had a chance at pole so we were agressive all day long. I told the guys before the first segment today and before the shootout that I would be much more mad if we went conservative and didn't take a shot at it then if we took a big shot at it and missed so they made the right calls. I'm really proud of them."
The pole speed was the highest since Sam Hornish Jr. (228.985 mph) in 2006 for Team Penske. He went on to win the race.
Rookie Carlos Munoz earned a front-row start and $50,000 of the Verizon Front Row Awards for second (228.342) -- .2892 of a second off Carpenter's aggregate four-lap time -- and Marco Andretti was awarded a $40,000 bonus for qualifying third (228.261). It's Andretti's best start in eight attempts at the Speedway.
Munoz, 21, is seeking to match Juan Pablo Montoya as an Indianapolis 500 winner from Colombia. Montoya also started second -- as a rookie -- in his 2000 victory. He was the last first-year front-row starter.
"To be honest, there are no words to describe how you feel to be in the front row," said Munoz, the Firestone Indy Lights championship points leader who will compete in the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Speedway on May 24. "We knew from the beginning we had a really good car, a really fast car alone.
"I'm really happy. To be just 21, just a little kid and sit in the front row as Montoya did is amazing. Now I have to focus on the race and I have to finish this month off just the way I started."
E.J. Viso (228.150), first-year Indy 500 competitor AJ Allmendinger (228.099) and Team Penske teammate Will Power (228.087) will start on Row 2 for the 200-lap race May 26. Reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (227.904) will join three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves (227.762) and James Hinchcliffe (227.070) on Row 3.
"This is the Indianapolis 500. We want to go for it, and we went for it," said Castroneves, a four-time pole sitter at the Speedway. "Obviously, a lot of people did the same, and you've got to hold on for four laps. It was very hard. In the past it paid off; today it did not. It was very hard to keep four laps together, but hey, it's not where you start, it's where you finish."
Power led the way through the first segment of time trials with a four-lap average speed of 228.844 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car. His first lap of 229.422 mph (39.2290 seconds) was the fastest of qualifications.
Power, who started fifth in the 500 Mile Race the past two years and has a best finish of fifth in 2009, recorded the fastest lap of practice – the fastest since 2003 – in the session preceding Pole Day qualifications at 229.808 mph with a tow.
Also of note on Pole Day: Three-time and defending Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti qualified 17th (226.069) in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car. He started 16th last May. Teammate Scott Dixon, the '08 race winner, qualified 16th (226.158). Alex Tagliani, the 2011 pole sitter, qualified 11th (227.386) in the No. 98 Barracuda Racing car.
Ryan Briscoe, the 2012 pole winner, slipped into P23 on his third qualifying attempt in the No. 8 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Teams car (225.265).
Positions 25-33 will be set through four-lap qualifications May 19 on Old National Armed Forces Bump Day.
There will be at least one bump in determining the 33-car field as Schmidt Peterson Pelfrey entered the No. 81 Angie's List Honda-powered car to be driven by Katherine Legge. She’s expected to participate in the 9-10 a.m. (ET) practice session and make at least one qualifying attempt later in the day. Each entrant is allowed three qualifying attempts as time permits.
In addition to Legge, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammates Graham Rahal and Michel Jourdain Jr., rookies Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly, Ana Beatriz, Buddy Lazier, Pippa Mann, Josef Newgarden and Sebastian Saavedra will attempt to qualify.
Once the field is filled, any qualifying attempt that is faster than a qualified entrant in the field will bump the slowest qualifier regardless of the day of qualification. The "bumping" entrant is placed at the rear of the field, while the "bumped" entrant is removed from the field, but has the opportunity to bumps its way back into the field as time allows.