Jay Howard's no stranger to the trials and tribulations the Indianapolis 500 can offer. After all, we're talking about a driver that once was pulled from his ride in favor of another driver in one year, and saw his team withdraw a qualifying time that would have had him in the field in still another. Yet after suffering these disappointments in previous years at Indy, this year Howard piloted the Rahal Letterman Lanigan/Sam Schmidt Motorsports #88 Service Central car to a spot in the field on Pole Day. He'll take the green flag in the middle of Row 7 this Sunday, but he still made some time to field a bit of Q&A for INDYCAR Nation.
Jay, congratulations on qualifying for the Centennial Anniversary 500! You put the car solidly in the field on Pole Day. How did the car feel in the week leading up to your attempt?
JH: The Service Central car felt good all through testing leading up to qualifcations. The one run where the car was really hard to drive was ironically what we ended up qualifying for the show but we were still fast enough to do a solid time to get us in the show. I really have to thank the Service Central folks for giving me the opportunity to be here and to all the guys at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for working so hard to get my car ready.
After your run, were you pretty positive your qualification time would stick without issue, and did you feel you had more left in the car if you needed to go back out?
JH: We had another .6/.07 mph left in the car. We ran again Bump Day morning just in case we had to qualify again and we solidly did 225's by our self. Rahal Letterman Lanigan equipment has given me a great car and we'll be fast again on race day.
What’s it like working with your 500 teammate Bertrand Baguette? How much have you two compared notes and on-track experiences this month? You both seemed pretty quick on Pole Day.
JH: Bertrand is a good teammate. He has very similar feedback on the car. He is kind of the opposite personality to me; he's very quiet but a very good driver. He's been fun to work with and we definitely had a lot of fun on our media day in Dayton this week.
After all the frustration you’ve had at Indy, do you feel vindicated somewhat in finally making the field against the deepest entry list we’ve had in years?
JH: Basically how I look at it, all bad luck I've had here means all of that is out of the way and now I'm going to have a few things fall my way on race day. I placed second here in 2006 and placed fourth here in 2009 in the Firestone Indy Lights and plan on putting another top-five in the books in my Indy 500 debut.
Come Race Day, can you describe for the fans the sort of general race strategy your team will be looking to employ?
JH: Really, we want to just get to the front. We are here to win just like everyone else is. Just because I'm a rookie at the Brickyard in the 500 doesn't mean I'm a rookie behind the wheel. We treat this just as any other race; it's just a bit longer and means more if you win it. It's the 500, anything can happen.
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.