Surprises at Homestead

March, 28, 2008

Wow. There were some significant surprises in Friday evening's IndyCar qualifying session at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

How about Vision Racing qualifying second and third with Ed Carpenter and A.J. Foyt IV? We knew Tony George was taking control of open-wheel racing, but we weren't expecting it to happen like that.

Obviously Dan Wheldon's crash was the biggest surprise. We all figured that somebody would put a car into the wall today, but most folks thought it would be one of the oval-racing neophytes. Instead, it was the IndyCar Series' king of the high-banked tracks who tasted SAFER barrier.

At least having Wheldon start at the back should liven up the race, and it will be interesting to see how many laps it takes the fearless Englishman to catch the leaders.

"Those first two laps, watching Dan is going to be pretty exciting," said pole winner Scott Dixon.

Roth Racing made the news as well, for a couple of different reasons. Owner/driver Marty Roth gets his share of criticism, but the 49-year-old turned in the qualifying run of his limited racing career to take 10th on the grid. But Roth's joy was muted when 2006 Indy Pro Series champion Jay Howard crashed the team's second car and may not be able to make Saturday night's race.

Graham Rahal has already been scratched from the Homestead race after crashing a Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing car in testing on Tuesday night. So it looks as though after we spent the past couple of weeks talking up the 26-car field for the IndyCar opener, we're not going to get it.

Still, 23 or 24 cars is an improvement over the 17- to 20-car norm we have come to expect from the IndyCar or Champ Car series for the past few years. From an image standpoint, it's nice to have a respectable field again.

As expected, the Champ Car refugees qualified right at the back of the field, with 15th-place Franck Perera fastest of the group. Who could have predicted Justin Wilson would share the ninth row of the grid with Milka Duno for his IndyCar debut?

For the Champ Car eight, just making the checkered flag on Saturday with all the wings and wheels on the car would be a small victory, and a top-10 result would be a bonus.

"We're taking it one step at a time," remarked Wilson. "Every mile and lap we do helps us get closer to our goal of running at the front."



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