Indy 500: The loophole Graham Rahal couldn’t exploit on Bump Day

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Bump Day, Indy 500, IndyCar - Mandatory Credit: Bob Goshert-USA TODAY Sports
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Bump Day, Indy 500, IndyCar - Mandatory Credit: Bob Goshert-USA TODAY Sports /

Graham Rahal took his Indy 500 Bump Day qualifying heartbreak with class, and there was nothing he could do about it with a Saturday loophole not on the table.

Graham Rahal tried and failed to hold back tears after being knocked out of the 107th running of the Indy 500 by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Jack Harvey in the closing seconds of Sunday’s Bump Day qualifying session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Harvey, whose pace had been well off that of Rahal’s after their first qualifying attempts, managed to find nearly 0.7 miles per hour over a four-lap run around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Speedway, Indiana oval, locking him into the field of 33 with an average speed of 229.166 miles per hour, compared to Rahal’s mark of 229.159 miles per hour.

Over the course of a 10-mile run at nearly 230 miles per hour, Rahal fell just 19 inches shy of making it into his 16th straight edition of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”.

Team owner Bobby Rahal had previously made the decision to remove himself from an impossible situation. It simply came down to Harvey and Rahal and their individual teams for the final spot.

In both cases, he is the team owner. In one case, the father. Following his commendable decision, the latter did not impact any aspect of the decision-making process.

Given the fact that going out for another run automatically withdraws previous times, the driver in 34th place is almost at a competitive advantage when it comes to strategizing for the end of the Bump Day session. Obviously, nobody from 31st to 33rd is going to willingly pull their time.

The No. 30 team sent out the 34th place Harvey out for a second attempt with more than enough time remaining for the No. 15 team and Rahal to respond if need be. It was a fair call. The goal was for Harvey to go quick enough to be in 32nd, not 33rd, to put Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing rookie Sting Ray Robb on the bubble for Rahal to potentially bump.

Instead, Harvey went slower than Rahal again, and given the engine temperature and the very little amount of time left on the clock, many thought that that was it. However, it wasn’t over yet. With the clock winding down, Harvey and the team made the decision that they were going to go out again for what would be the final run of the day.

If this were the battle for the top 30, the No. 15 team very well could have taken advantage of a loophole in qualifying and locked themselves into the field anyway.

But that loophole, which Graham Rahal probably wouldn’t have tried to exploit anyway, doesn’t exist on Indy 500 Bump Day.

Based on how the rule is written for day one, you can bump yourself into the Indy 500, you can bump someone else out of the Indy 500, and you can be bumped out of the Indy 500 by somebody else bumping themselves in.

But what you cannot do is be bumped back in by someone else withdrawing their time.

"“For an entry list of more than 33, once cars are outside of the Top 30, they are considered to not have a qualification speed as only positions 1-30 will be locked in during Day One.”"

Take, for instance, how Dalton Kellett locked himself into the top 30 back in 2021, with an average speed that was close to a full mile per hour (228.323 vs 229.228) slower than that of Will Power, who did not make the top 30 cut and had to take part in Bump Day instead.

Kellett withdrawing his top 30 time (229.250 miles per hour at the time) didn’t bump Power’s 31st place time in; it simply left 29 times on the board, meaning that all Kellett needed to do was to complete his run to lock in as 30th quick. He could have crawled around the track and made it in.

Of course, IndyCar could technically intervene and waive off a run. But given the fact that a withdrawn top 30 time would leave just 29 officially qualifying times, anything over 0.000 mph would technically be an “improvement”. Such a scenario, by definition, would not fit the criteria for a waive-off.

But again, this loophole does not apply to the Bump Day session, as per the rulebook.

"“Each car’s most recent qualification speed will remain eligible for the starting lineup until the time is withdrawn or qualifications end.”"

So the No. 15 team could not simply say to the No. 30 team, ‘okay, you just had two attempts to bump us out, you couldn’t do it, and we’re not going to give you the chance to bump us out with no time left.’

Had Rahal and the No. 15 team withdrawn their original time and gone out for a run for no other reason than to bleed out the clock, it would have put Harvey into the field, even though his previous time was only good for 34th place.

Why? Because the 34th place time is not “null” like a non-top 30 time is on Saturday. It would have moved up and become the 33rd place time.

It’s why nobody from 31st to 33rd makes another attempt while sitting from 31st to 33rd.

Would the team have used this strategy if it were available on Bump Day like it is on Saturday? It certainly seems cruel, almost to the extent of unsportsmanlike, especially within a team. But ask any driver, Rahal included, just how cruel the speedway can be. When it comes to locking into the Indy 500, anything goes when it comes to avoiding being number 34. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Unfortunately, Rahal could do absolutely nothing to keep these desperate times from creating a nightmare he won’t want to relive. Harvey is in, and Rahal is out.

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