Understanding the confusing end of Saturday's Indy 500 qualifying

Phillip Abbott/Motorsport Images

Understanding the confusing end of Saturday's Indy 500 qualifying


Understanding the confusing end of Saturday's Indy 500 qualifying


Confusion reigned towards the end of qualifying on Saturday as Team Penske’s Will Power tried to knock A.J. Foyt Racing’s Dalton Kellett out of the top 30.

Holding P30 for a long stretch of the afternoon, Kellett’s average speed of 229.250mph withstood numerous attempts to take the final guaranteed starting position from the Canadian driver. Power was among them, but came up a scant 0.022mph short on his last qualifying attempt.

Due to the 2021 Indy 500 qualifying rules for Day 1, every attempt that was slow enough to be outside the top 30 was considered irrelevant; at the end of his run, Power’s speed of 229.228mph was shown and kept on IndyCar’s timing and scoring screen, but in reality, the rules meant any drivers on the wrong side the top 30 did not have an official speed. In essence, Power, and all the other drivers outside the top 30 were invisible to the series.

After Power’s late run, and with more drivers lining up to take a crack at stealing P30, Kellett’s car was wheeled into the Fast qualifying lane, which required the Foyt team to void his qualifying speed. Until those four laps were completed, Kellett held P30 with an average speed of 000.000mph. The Canadian then produced a 228.323mph — obviously slower than the speed he gave up, and slower than what Power ran minutes before — but it didn’t matter. The new speed was filled in as his official speed for P30.

The key point is that according to the rules, and despite surrendering his speed of 229.250mph, the Foyt team knew it would remain P30 at the end of Kellett’s run. Whatever Power did before at 229.238mph, despite being faster than Kellett’s new 228.323mph, didn’t count.

Since Kellett was in the protected top 30, drivers with speeds outside the top 30 didn’t exist according to the rules. Therefore, Power wasn’t capable of claiming P30 since he was outside the top 30.

And thanks to the timing of Kellett’s run — which resulted in Simona De Silvestro being sent out as the last runner, just 16 seconds before the end of qualifying at 5:50 p.m. — Power was left stranded in the pits with no speed and De Silvestro’s No. 16 Paretta Autosport Chevy was too slow — 228.1mph — to take P30 from Kellett.

So that’s how Kellett, despite posting a slower speed than Power during Happy Hour, is in the field and the Penske driver is on the way to competing Sunday in IndyCar’s Last Chance Qualifying session as one of five drivers vying for three positions in the field of 33.