Ed Carpenter sets qualifying pace

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INDIANAPOLIS -- The new qualifying format for the Indianapolis 500 certainly delivered in terms of quantity.

A record 71 qualification attempts were made Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as fans were treated to virtual nonstop activity at the venerable old Brickyard. It was a big day in terms of quality, too, with the fastest speeds recorded at IMS in 11 years, topped by Ed Carpenter's 230.661 mph run.

Yet there was something strangely unsatisfying about ending the first day of Indy 500 qualifying without knowing who will start on pole position. That won't be known until Sunday afternoon, when a made-for-television, nine-driver shootout will determine the first three rows of the grid.

With bragging rights, pit stall selection and championship points on the line Saturday, nine drivers made at least three qualifying runs as they tried to put themselves among those who will vie for the pole on Sunday. Carpenter's position in the top spot was never seriously threatened, but there was some excitement in sorting out the order at the bottom of the nine fastest.

Carpenter set the mark at 230.114 mph just 17 minutes into Saturday's seven-hour qualifying session and stayed there for some four hours until Will Power upped the ante to 230.323 with his second attempt of the day.

Four drivers then managed to best Power's speed, topped by owner-driver Carpenter, who found 230.661 mph in his Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet a little more than an hour before the final gun.

Ed Carpenter Racing's second driver, JR Hildebrand, survived sitting on the Fast Nine bubble for when the day ended and will join his team boss in the Sunday pole shootout.

"I was hoping to only have to do that once today," said Carpenter, who is the defending Indianapolis 500 pole sitter. "It's stressful qualifying here, so the less you have to do it, the better. We ended up having to do it twice to have some security.

"It was an exciting day, with five different teams represented in the top nine," he added. "That's probably more than I was expecting going into the day, and I'm proud to have both our cars in the top nine."

Andretti Autosport placed three cars in the pole shootout ( Carlos Munoz, James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti), while Kurt Busch and Ryan Hunter-Reay ended 10th and 11th and will be the last drivers to qualify in the reverse-order Sunday session that determines places 10-30 on the grid.

By withdrawing his earlier speed of 230.011 mph, Andretti's Hunter-Reay was waiting in the "priority" qualifying line near the end of the day when Josef Newgarden bumped him out of the top nine. But Hunter-Reay was able to muster only 229.899 mph on his last-ditch run.

"We made the wrong call," Hunter-Reay said. "I'll have to go back and look at the data because we changed the gearing and a lot of other stuff. At this place, you can go out 15 minutes later and the track has completely changed -- that's the way it is. We'll have to come back tomorrow, and we still have more work to do, which is frustrating after being in the top nine all day today."

The day ended with drivers feeling relief or consternation, depending on where they had qualified.

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