Hinchcliffe just misses pole at Indy

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Johnson wins NASCAR million

How close is this?

Ryan Briscoe‘s pole-winning speed for next weekend’s Indianapolis 500, which he set late this afternoon, was 226.484 miles an hour. James Hinchcliffe’s was 226.482 mph.

What’s that – an eighth of a blink?

Whatever, it was a huge disappointment for the Oakville Indy car driver who was wearing the racing gloves of his hero, the late Canadian racer Greg Moore, and recorded the best lap of the session (39.6591 seconds on Lap 1 of his second attempt).

At one time earlier today, he had the fastest speed and the No. 1 starting spot in the world’s most famous race.

But Briscoe went out early during the final “Fast Nine Shootout” for the pole and set the speed that nobody could beat, giving car owner Roger Penske yet another Indy 500 pole.

Hinchcliffe will start second – in the middle of the front row – while Ryan Hunter-Reay, who ran his four qualifying laps at an average speed of 226.240 mph, will start outside row one in the No. 3 spot.

Marco Andretti will start fourth, with Will Power fifth and Helio Castroneves sixth.

Andretti, Power, Castroneves and Hinchcliffe all took turns trying to knock Briscoe off his perch but just couldn’t get going fast enough to maintain that high a speed for four consecutive laps.

The second Canadian trying for a high qualifying spot today was Alex Tagliani, who will start the 500 from 11th place – the middle of the fourth row – when the race starts next Sunday, May 27, at noon.

According to IndyCar, the time differential of 0.0023 of a second is the closest 1-2 in race qualifying history (equivalent to 9.168 inches over the four laps).

The fastest 24 cars qualified today while the remaining nine cars will have to set an official time on Sunday – Bump Day. Unless there is a major surprise, the 33 cars that have been on track to date will all qualify for the 96th 500, including ex-F1 star Jean Alesi who’s been battling it out for slowest with Simona de Silvestro since practice started.

Alesi and de Silvestro are saddled, of course, with the Lotus engine that has proved to be an embarrassing failure at Indianapolis.

(Neither driver, incidentally, went on track Saturday. The field average was 224 mph and change and neither has come even remotely close to that speed in practice.)

There were three incidents at the Speedway today. Ed Carpenter crashed, as did Brian Clauson – both primarily oval track drivers. Oriol Servia lost control as well. Nobody was hurt but the cars were bashed up.

Hinchcliffe allowed that to miss the pole at Indianapolis was a major letdown.

“I know it sounds silly being disappointed with starting second in the Indianapolis 500 but that’s how I feel. We had the car and the speed today,” he told a television interviewer.

Later, he told IndyCar”

“Yeah, (it was) the smallest of margins; it’s heartbreaking in a sense,” said Hinchcliffe. “I’m going to lose a little bit of sleep over how small that margin was to Ryan and knowing that we had it there for three laps.

“But, you know, that’s Indy. It’s a gust of wind, it’s a shadow over a corner that changes and that can be the difference. At the end of the day, we get to start on the front row of the Indy 500, and that’s just the coolest thing ever. At the end of the day it’s a great result for us.”

Before I add on the top 24 in speeds heading into Sunday’s qualifying, Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Saturday night and the $1 million that went with it.

Johnson is now officially on a roll. He won the race at Darlington last week, the All-Star million Saturday  and the Coca-Cola 600 is next Sunday, of which he is now officially the favourite to win.

Indy qualifying:

1.  Ryan Briscoe        Penske DW12-Chevy             226.484
2.  James Hinchcliffe   Andretti DW12-Chevy           226.481
3.  Ryan Hunter-Reay    Andretti DW12-Chevy           226.240
4.  Marco Andretti      Andretti DW12-Chevy           225.456
5.  Will Power          Penske DW12-Chevy             225.422
6.  Helio Castroneves   Penske DW12-Chevy             225.172
7.  Josef Newgarden     Fisher DW12-Honda             224.037
8.  Tony Kanaan         KV DW12-Chevy                 224.751
9.  EJ Viso             KV DW12-Chevy                 224.422
10.  Rubens Barrichello  KV DW12-Chevy                 224.264
11.  Alex Tagliani       Herta DW12-Honda              224.000
12.  Graham Rahal        Ganassi DW12-Honda            223.959
13.  Ana Beatriz         Andretti/Conquest DW12-Chevy  223.920
14.  Charlie Kimball     Ganassi DW12-Honda            223.868
15.  Scott Dixon         Ganassi DW12-Honda            223.684
16.  Dario Franchitti    Ganassi DW12-Honda            223.582
17.  James Jakes         Dale Coyne DW12-Honda         223.482
18.  JR Hildebrand       Panther DW12-Chevy            223.422
19.  Takuma Sato         Rahal DW12-Honda              223.392
20.  Townsend Bell       Schmidt DW12-Honda            223.134
21.  Justin Wilson       Dale Coyne DW12-Honda         222.929
22.  Michel Jourdain Jr  Rahal DW12-Honda              222.893
23.  Simon Pagenaud      Schmidt DW12-Honda            222.891
24.  Sebastian Saavedra  AFS/Andretti DW12-Chevy       222.811

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