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by Bruce Martin

Scott Dixon was fast during Indianapolis 500 final practice and in the pit stop competition. (Walt Kuhn/IndyCar photo)
INDIANAPOLIS – Target/Chip Ganassi Racing scored a sweep on Carb Day for the 98th Indianapolis 500 while Gabby Chaves snatched away victory by the narrowest of margins in the Freedom 100 Indy Lights Series race.
A new challenge has been added to this year’s Indianapolis 500, and it’s one that some of the top drivers in the 33-car field don’t necessarily like: blocking.
Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan revealed Friday after he was the fastest driver in Friday’s final round of practice – known as Carb Day – that IndyCar officials said in the drivers meeting that the leader will be allowed to block to protect their position.
“There is no rule that says you cannot move to the left so we are going to move to the left,” Kanaan said. “We don’t make the rules.
“You can always look and say this is the Indy 500. You are leading the race and you have the right to lead. Sometimes I don’t think it’s fair enough to the leader and be exposed and lose the race because you are in the lead. So maybe defending will be fair because the leader has the right to be there. It can be dangerous, for sure. There is a certain level of defending that should be allowed. Right now, you know what is going to happen – the leader is going to move to the left.”
Kanaan’s teammate, 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon, was the second fastest driver on Friday and also admitted the blocking allowance could cause potential mayhem.
“The rules have changed this year, too, you can block,” Dixon said. “You can defend now. Last year we had to leave a car-width at all times. But not now.”
Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Kanaan was a disappointment in last weekend’s qualifications when he qualified 16th in the 33-car starting lineup. He proved that he has a great setup for Race Day. Kanaan was the fastest driver in Friday’s Carb Day final practice for the 98th Indianapolis 500 with a fast lap of 227.838 miles per hour in the one-hour session. Kanaan ran a total of 46 laps.
The second fastest driver? Kanaan’s teammate, Dixon, with a fast lap at 227.773 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet. He ran a total of 50 laps as all 33 drivers including 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch ran a total of 1,441 laps in the 60-minute session.
Friday’s speeds are a much better indication of what to expect on Race Day as teams had one last chance to check the setup for the Indy 500.
“Every little bit helps for Sunday,” Kanaan said. “We feel pretty good about it. We worked pretty hard together to make up for our Saturday qualifying. We had a packed engineering office at work at Chip Ganassi Racing. But today’s times don’t count for Race Day but we did have a good car in traffic and you need that for Sunday.
“I don’t think anyone is going to pull away or want to lead, either. It’s going to be a pack race for sure.”
Dixon also feels very confident about his No. 9 Dallara/Chevrolet for Sunday.
“You try to get the most you can out of it and make the most of it,” Dixon said. “The competition on Sunday is extremely tough and it will be that way on Sunday. Last year we did the same thing but our cars were actually horrible in the race. I hope we don’t see that happen again this year.”
Last year’s Indy 500 produced a record 68 lead changes. Many drivers expect plenty of passing this year because of the racing characteristics of the Dallara DW012 chassis.
Dixon starts in the middle of Row 4 and is surrounded by drivers with NASCAR experience. Juan Pablo Montoya, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner, starts on the inside and Busch starts on the outside of that row.
“Juan and Kurt have a ton of experience and the three-wide starts are a little bit different but nothing crazy,” Dixon said. “It cycles out quickly.”
Busch was 15th in speed on Carb Day with a fast lap at 224.684 mph in a Dallara/Honda for Andretti Autosport.
“Today I was able to stay on top of the adjustments and communicate to the crew what needs to be done for the race,” Busch said. “I made nice steps today. I was able to get back up on the horse, feel the car again, feel the confidence and they may make changes for it to go up the speed charts.
“There is a stop and smell the roses moment but it’s getting close to race time. I’ve had the time to smell the roses. Today is exciting, the crowd is big and it’s vibrant.
“To come down here three-wide for the start of the race is one of the great moments in sports. It’s exciting and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Townsend Bell was third fastest at 227.221 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet followed by three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves’ at 226.187 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet. Russian rookie Mikhail Aleshin rounded out the top five at 226.045 mph in a Dallara/Honda.
Pole-winner Ed Carpenter was 13th on Friday with a fast lap at 224.898 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
“We got a lot done today,” Carpenter said. “We did many pit stops and the balance of the car feels good. It’s a little warmer than it has been this week but it was closer to the track conditions for Sunday. We have to figure out how we want to start the race. But overall I’m pretty pleased with the things we did today. We knew everyone was going to run today since the Hondas didn’t run much on Monday. It was definitely busy out there. And that is good for us to learn more about the car for Sunday. Now we are going to look over the data and prepare for the race. We have some sponsor commitments tonight and tomorrow, so that will keep us busy. I always enjoy the parade too, especially with our young kids. They have a blast.”
Kanaan’s confidence increased with his performance on Friday and is ready for another charge through the field.
“Last year, nobody remembered where I qualified but they remembered where I finished,” Kanaan said.
And everyone who witnessed the finish of last year’s Freedom 100 Indy Lights race remembered it too, and almost saw a repeat performance.
The 20-year-old Chaves finished second in last year’s four-wide Freedom 100 finish, won the race by .0050 of a second. It was the second consecutive Freedom 100 win for Belardi Auto Racing, which won the race with the No. 5 car with Peter Dempsey last season.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Chaves said. “I am out of voice because I was just yelling so loud on the victory lap. I can’t describe this. I am so happy. The team deserves this. We deserve it. I have worked so hard to be where I am. Just to see myself get one step closer to where I want to be – I’m speechless.
“I didn’t try to take the lead in turn one. I was just trying to get around Zach (Meyer) for second position. I thought I had a better shot at the win if I was in second position on the last lap. It didn’t work out – maybe thankfully, I don’t know. I was able to hang on to the car. It got a little loose, for sure. I got a good run and made my way inside of Zach in turn three, got a good run off of four, and made the pass for the win. I’m happy for the guys. They deserve it. And, I am so happy too. It’s going great. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”
Brabham had the lead exiting the fourth turn but as the front pack of cars charged down the front stretch toward the checkered flag. Just as last year’s race finished four abreast Chaves was able to pull alongside Brabham in the outside lane and nip the Australian at the start finish line.
“I thought I had it on the last lap,” Brabham said. “They were battling (behind me). I had a little bit of a gap. They closed up on me right on the last two corners. I came out of the last corner; I thought I still kind of had it. And right at the very end Gabby just picked me. I’m a little bit disappointed not to win, but I’m happy I was up there and happy that I could fight for the win. I guess it came down to a little bit of luck. I just didn’t quite have that last little bit to get the race win. I’m happy (because) the team did a great job. The car was great. I had to adjust with the tools, the weight jacker and the roll bars. The car was pretty good in clean air and dirty air. Maybe if I stayed out in front the people behind me would battle and that kind of happened for me, but I just didn’t get the win. (Racing at the Speedway)
“It was incredible. The atmosphere is fantastic and there are so many people in the stands. My dad (Geoff) told me so much about this event. It’s an indescribable feeling. It’s really cool.”
Target Chip Ganassi Racing and driver Scott Dixon won the Tag Heuer Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge, earning a $50,000 prize. Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing beat Sage Karam and Dreyer & Reinbold-Kingdom Racing with Chip Ganassi Racing, 11.737 seconds to 12.084 seconds, in the final round. It was the second win in three years for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
Crew members for Dixon: Chief mechanic and right front tire, Blair Julian; Adam Rovazzini left front tire; Greg Shuker right rear tire; Tyler Rees, left rear tire; Andy Schneider airjack, Todd DeNeve fueler.
Helio Castroneves was the last pit stop challenge-winning driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in the same year, in 2009.
“It’s actually one of my most stressful days apart from Race Day because you don’t want to mess it up,” Dixon said. “I’ve been very lucky and blessed to have such a great team for many years and to win the pit stop competition two times within three years is pretty tough to do. It’s a bit hard with strategy with lane choice and things like that but straight up, all but one race this year, this team has been the quickest on pit road. They’re amazing at what they do. Without them, I wouldn’t have the success that I have had. They are one of the best teams on pit road. It’s definitely going to help me a lot come Race Day this weekend.”
While Indy 500 Race Day is the biggest prize in racing the crew members take the pit stop challenge seriously. It is a chance for them to be rewarded for their efforts.
“Every week it is pretty tight (between teams in the pits),” Julian said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to do a good job here on pit lane – today and in the races. It’s working out pretty good. There is not a huge amount of (pit stop) practice throughout the season. It is mainly on race weekend. We try to get a few in during the sessions, unless we have a big problem, and everything has been going pretty good. Problems have been minimal.”
Either way, Ganassi was assured of the pit stop challenge title. It was just a matter of which team would claim it.
“To lose to Scott (Dixon), he’s a pretty good guy,” said the 19-year-old Karam. “To get Chip to get two guys in the final is a great accomplishment. He was on the side with better grip. We got to the box at similar times, when I let go of the clutch it was just wheel spin, wheel spin.”
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