For all the teasing of a potential upset, the Indianapolis 500 last row shootout largely followed the script.
Successfully qualifying for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing was Sage Karam of Dreyer & Reinbold, Will Power of Team Penske and Simona de Silvestro of Paretta Autosport.
The latter, of course, is a self-described female forwardorganization with a majority of its staff, team and driver comprised of women with support from Team Penske. Power is the 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2014 IndyCar Series champion and Karam is an eight-year IndyCar veteran.
Failing to qualify for the race was Charlie Kimball of AJ Foyt Racing and RC Enerson of upstart Top Gun Racing — two of the most obvious candidates to be sent home based on their pace throughout the week and on Fast Friday.
However, Power nearly took himself out of the running by scraping the wall in Turn 2 of his final lap. Power stayed in the gas and was able to salvage a 228.876 average. The contact knocked the toe out of the right rear tire, and the rules prevented Team Penske from fixing the damage.
“I’m sure there’s a few little shaky throttle nervous lifts as I hit the wall but man, this place throws everything at you,” Power said on the NBC Sports broadcast. “To get in the race is an amazing feeling and an amazing place. So now we can focus forward.
“It’s a more nervous feeling than going for pole. Really you had one run at it, then your engine’s hot and you don’t really have another shot. Definitely lose a little bit of sleep over that one just knowing you’ve got to execute.”
Had Power lifted, it would have forced him to attempt to make a second attempt, and with a damaged car, that potentially would have left him on the outside looking in.
“Very nerve-wracking,” Power added. “The run halfway through started going loose and having little moments everywhere. Just held onto it out of 2, kind of walked it all the way to the wall and hit the wall and just took a chance of holding it wide open in 3/4 and just hoping the rear toe wasn’t too bent.
“So yeah, man, that’s just as loose as you want to get it. I can’t thank Verizon and Chevy enough for sticking with me after all these years. I’ve been with them a long time. I’m so stoked to get in the race for those guys and for all the team. Because the team really has put a massive amount of effort into this race and just over the moon. Big relief honestly more than anything to get in the race.”
Power was able to avoid becoming the first Penske driver to miss the race since 1995. The organization has struggled to make speed this past week with no Penske driver inside the Fast Nine Shootout for the second straight year.
Scott McLaughlin was the fastest Penske driver on Saturday in 17th, followed by two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden in 21st and Simon Pagenaud in 26th.
Enerson and Kimball both withdrew their times in the attempt to unseat de Silvestro from the last spot with 15 minutes and 5 minutes remaining, respectively, but neither had the speed.
de Silvestro returns to the Indianapolis 500 for the first time since 2015, and will make her sixth start in the race, after previous appearances for HVM Racing, KV Racing and Andretti Autosport.
Beth Paretta launched the team last season with its Female Forward mantra, but intends for this organization to grow well beyond the Indianapolis 500, but it had to begin with making the race.
The team was formed as part of the Race for Equality and Change program launched by IndyCar last season.
“This is only the beginning,” Paretta said.
“I feel like we climbed a mountain together. Hats off to all of these women and also all these men from Team Penske who have been coaching our women on this team and just working and digging in and spent all this week but especially yesterday and today to get Simona on the grid. I couldn’t be happier, and I can’t wait to get to next week.”
The 2020 race was the first time in 20 years that the Indianapolis 500 did not feature at least one female starter, a trend Silvestro immediately countered in 2021 with Paretta.
“It was definitely hard, but I really had faith in the team,” said De Silvestro. “Everyone worked so hard. I’ve been putting more pressure on me just to get it done because everyone puts so much work. Super happy to be in, sorry for Charlie that we bumped him out, but hopefully next time it won’t be nerve-wracking.
“The girls that are working on the car, they were on it. I hope that it inspires a lot of young girls to be whoever they want to be. If I look at my career, I’m super proud to be part of this.”