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The Callahan Report: Indy's Bump Day is Fast, Furious, Friendly

24 May 1999

By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel

INDIANAPOLIS: Three drivers were ready to bump their way into the Indianapolis 500 field as the track opened for qualifications. Two of them made it without any problems. Another blew an engine bringing worries and headaches that are common at Indy during the final day of time trials.

Raul Boesel bumped his way into the field just after the track opened for qualifying. The Indy veteran and former CART front runner bumped six time Indy veteran Lyn St. James. Boesel qualified with a speed of 220.101 mph.

Johnny Unser, another Indy veteran who is used to waiting until the final hour to make the big race, was the next driver to attempt to qualify. He posted a solid speed shortly after noon. He bumped Jacques Lazier from his first Indy 500. Unser qualified at 221.197 mph. It would be the second fastest qualifying run of the day.

"We had our momentum going and then we hit the fence on Thursday," said Unser. "Yesterday we struggled a little bit, but this morning it felt a little bit better. When qualifying, I had the best car I had all week. I could not be happier right now."

The weather forecast called for rain by mid afternoon. Unser knew he had to get his car in the show quickly. He did just that.

"I wish the storm would hurry up and come. I am glad that it was not a complete rain out today because we would not have been able to qualify," Unser said.

Johnny Unser was the second driver with the famous family name to make the 83rd Indy 500 field. Robby Unser, Johnny's cousin, qualified Saturday in the middle of the field. The Unser name is expected to be in the race. Johnny's uncles Al Unser Sr. and Bobby Unser have won the 500 a total of seven times between them. His cousin Al Unser Jr. is a two time winner.

Robbie Buhl, who crashed hard on the first day of qualifying, went out after Unser made his run. Buhl's luck was not any better Sunday. He blew his engine during his qualifying attempt. With the storm clouds inching their way towards Indy and time running out, Buhl began to see his chances at competing in the Indianapolis 500 dwindling. His crew and car owner began a last minute scramble to get him into the race. A.J. Foyt came to the rescue late in the day.

With the rains less than an hour away, Dr. Jack Miller, another Indy veteran took to the speedway. Dr. Jack raised eyebrows all around the track as he turned in three very quick qualifying laps. Miller toured the track at 221, 222, and 220 mph before dropping way off the pace. His final lap was 216 mph. Miller was still able to knock Stephan Gregoire from the field.

Andy Michner was next out. He put on a thrill show in the Jonathan Byrd sponsored car as he spun on his warmup lap exiting turn two. Michner kept his race car off the wall. He needed new tires and possibly a change of uniform before making his way back to the qualifying line. His spin also caused a delay as the weather front continued to move in.

Mike Groff was out next. He qualified but just barely. Groff knocked Scott Harrington out of the 83rd Indy field. Groff's speed was the 33rd fastest at that point. He was on the bubble.

Next out was Andy Michner once again. His speed was not fast enough. He posted speeds in the mid 218 mph range. Michner will not race in the 1999 Indianapolis 500.

Robbie Buhl went out in the A.J. Foyt owned backup car (number 84). He had practiced at 219 just moments earlier. Buhl was the last qualifier as he made the show by knocking Mike Groff out of the race lineup. He was 0.036 seconds faster than Groff over the ten mile run. As Buhl headed to the pits, the skies opened, ending qualifying for the day.

"Robbie (Buhl) helped us out through the years. Turnabout is fair play. If someone is in trouble, you help them out," said Foyt, a four time Indy champion. "That is what the IRL is all about. Just because you have a big sponsor and the other guy doesnt, you can still be competitive."

"I am still angry at what happened yesterday. I was too confident. That was a mistake and I am still getting over that fact." said Buhl.

"We just said 'Lets shake down A.J.s car and see what happens'. I looked in A.J..s eyes and he said what the balance of the car was." the young Indy veteran continued. "You have to have confidence in guys. If you didnt, it wouldnt have worked."

It worked well. With communication, camaraderie and guts, Robbie Buhl is in the Indy 500.

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