When the Indy 500 Armed Forces Bump Day was over, we had a number of unexpected developments. Two Andretti cars out of the field. Rookies and partial-schedule drivers showing up the full-timers. Smaller teams easily leapfrogging bigger ones. Rain, more rain, and a suitable last-minute run to make it in the Indy 500. Yes, this Pole Day had a bit of everything. Here are some grades on how many of the key players did on Bump Day.
Paul Tracy: A+
It was raining during PT's attempt, but that wasn't about to stop him. He made up for his miss on Pole Day with an excellent 224.9 average to make him the fastest 2nd-day qualifier. When it came time for PT to deliver, he showed exactly what a veteran driver could do in terrible conditions.
Alex Lloyd: A+
Just when it seemed the Boy Scouts of America #19 car didn't have an ounce of speed left, Lloyd took it out on his last attempt and bumped his way into the field. With the car vibrating so badly Lloyd could not see and with oil temperature problems to boot, Alex somehow held on for four laps in a performance that was—shall I say it?--Buddy Lazier-esque.
Danica Patrick/Marco Andretti: A-
Marco probably would have preferred to bump anyone but his teammate, but that's exactly what happened between him and Ryan Hunter-Reay. As the gun sounded, he closed out Bump Day with a run good enough for 4th-fastest on 2nd-day qualifiers. For Danica, after a failed tech inspection and two long rain delays, she showed she had more than enough speed to make the show. Turns out she wasn't quite finished after all, which ruined the countless online obituaries for her racing career that were being essayed right around 3:30 pm Sunday.
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: B+
They started the day with two cars not yet in, and qualified them both. It's hard to argue with that sort of success rate, especially when other multi-car teams were struggling so mightily to do so. You do have to think Ana Beatriz has to be very, very happy Bump Day only goes until 6, and not 6:05 pm.
Charlie Kimball/Graham Rahal: B
Neither Ganassi satellite team showed the speed they had earlier in the week, but they both managed to put their cars into the field. I'm sure Kimball and Rahal would have liked to be a bit higher than their Row 10 slots, but along with Marco, they hold the promise of the most upwardly mobile Row 10 we've seen in some time.
Ryan Briscoe: B-
I think many of us felt as if Briscoe had a pretty good chance to be fastest 2nd-day qualifier, but he ended up 3rd fastest behind Tracy and Danica. He's in the field, but that car still doesn't seem like what we expect from a Penske entry. Fortunately for Ryan, he's safely in, and the team will have some time to tweak things further.
AFS Racing: C
AFS didn't make Indy, but this small team is still making the transition to the IZOD IndyCar Series. There's no shame in it, and with the caliber of personnel on this team, I think they'll get their chance. Ultimately, I think they were just too far behind the curve to get it done.
Conquest Racing: C
On one hand, Sebastian Saavedra came close to making the field, but almost lost his car and cost himself valuable time on the ultimately unsuccessful attempt. He would not be able to recover from it, and finished outside looking in. On the other hand, Pippa Mann put it all together with a very consistent run and qualified 32nd, but not before a weekend of doubt and nerves. It's the end result that matters; for Conquest, that's a mixed bag.
Dale Coyne Racing: C
Coyne came precariously close this year to not having either of his cars in the Indy 500—he's got to be thrilled he decided to sign Alex Lloyd for the ovals right now. It was really a pretty rough time of it, and would have been worse if not for Lloyd's heroics paired with the team simply not giving up. On another note, yes, James Jakes didn't make the field, but he worked hard all month and kept it off the wall—that's not something all rookies can say.
Andretti Autosport (Overall): D
Despite good news late from Danica and Marco, you cannot take the sting out of two good drivers in Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway failing to end up in the field of 33. Period.
Dragon Racing: F
After the drama of an unhappy Scott Speed and Ho-Pin Tung ruled out with a concussion from his crash, Dragon Racing desperately needed good news on Bump Day. Instead, veteran Patrick Carpentier (brought in to qualify the 20 car) hit the wall and ended Dragon's chances as their sole qual-ready machine was heavily damaged. Dragon's got to be wondering how so many things could go wrong in just a couple of days.
Honestly, everyone who qualified gets a passing grade; in the end, Indy remains a Pass/Fail course. But when we look deeper, we know making the field or missing out isn't the end of the fight. Good drivers, even great drivers go home; that's the darker side of Indy. But it wouldn't be the track it is without that drama. For the 33 fastest drivers, their next lesson is about to begin.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.