Four drivers destined to go home unhappy this weekend at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS -- There's not much glamour in being among the last cars on the track in the second week of preparations for the 92nd Indianapolis 500. For Buddy Lazier, Friday's practice was an exercise in stress.

"You've got one day and so much work to go through," the 1996 champion said. "One day, with second-weekend qualifying looming.

But if his late-to-the-party Hemelgarn Racing No. 91 ends the weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway anywhere in the top 33, even No. 33 itself, that's glamorous indeed.

Unlike in recent years, qualifying won't be a walk-through.

Thirty-six cars have turned laps, and a 37th, driven by Phil Giebler, is expected on the track by Saturday morning's one-hour practice. At noon, qualifying resumes, with 22 spots up for grabs.

The top 11 were decided this past Saturday, with Scott Dixon on the pole. The second 11 were to be settled the next day, but rains postponed the proceedings and forced this Saturday (ESPN2, 4 p.m. ET) into a combined second- and third-day qualifying session. Sunday's Bump Day (ABC, 1-3 p.m. ET; ESPN2, 4 p.m. ET) is available to shuffle the deck.

This year, expect shuffling both days -- weather permitting. There are finally enough cars on Gasoline Alley to make it interesting.

In 2007, 32 were slotted on Saturday and a measly three qualification attempts Sunday solidified the grid. Only Jimmy Kite, who ran a sluggish 214.528 mph effort Saturday, was bumped, and his last-ditch attempt to get back in the field Sunday night was waved off after one lap.

In 2006, there was limited drama with Thiago Medeiros making the field Sunday in a patchwork car for PDM Racing. Marty Roth crashed in his attempt to make the show and a late-appearing Ryan Briscoe, hoping to put a third Foyt car in the field, never got on the track. In 2005, a 34-car field left only Arie Luyendyk Jr. on the sideline.

This year, four drivers are expected to go home, the most since 2002, when five failed to qualify -- including Oriol Servia, who is back in the field this year with KV Racing Technology.

The twist in this month of May has been the weather, which has erased 2½ practice days the first week, second-day qualifying and one day of second-week practice. The only full days of practice teams have had were Thursday and Friday, and those not safely in the field had to keep an eye on race preparation with only one hour of practice available next week -- Carb Day -- for last-second tuning.

"We're in limbo-land, half qualifying, still, and half race trim. We're trying to do full race stuff, and then we're trying to go a little bit faster and see what the car's doing," said Darren Manning of A.J. Foyt Enterprises. "It's been a difficult week, all in all."

Manning is among the cars that are a shoo-in for the field, but where? He hopes somewhere in the 12-18 range, among the first six rows. If he isn't there after the qualifying cycle Saturday, he would face a hard choice of whether to pull his time off the board and try for something better. Cars get three attempts on each qualifying day.

"We'll put a four-lap run together in cautious mode to begin with; hopefully, it will be enough," Manning said. "I don't see us taking that much of a risk."

The risks will come further down the grid, and the action could be furious with forecasts for a chance of showers midday Saturday and Sunday. Several of the teams that have practiced toward the rear of the field didn't find what they were looking for Friday, which only adds to the anxiety.

"We're just battling Indy right now," Roth said. "It's just been one of those months for us. Hopefully, we'll have a car that can get into the show."

"We learned a lot, but we are still not where we want to be in terms of speed," added Mario Dominguez, of Pacific Coast Motorsports. "Obviously, [Saturday] is a very important day, and we will maximize our options to get it in the show."

Among those options could be exhausting all three qualifying attempts on Saturday and Sunday, along with feverishly watching and working the qualifying line with an eye on other teams and an eye on the forecast.

And come Sunday night, that still might not have been enough.

John Schwarb is a motorsports contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.