Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.

Grading the Grid: Team-By-Team Rundown From Indy 500 Quals

By Aaron Bearden, Open Wheel Editor

INDIANAPOLIS — After a host of cheers, a few fist pumps and two heavy doses of heartbreak, qualifying for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 is complete.

And let me tell you, there’s a lot to unpack.

There were surprises aplenty, both positive (see: the first team on these rankings) and negative – just ask the driver of the No. 5 Honda. Some teams lived up to or even exceeded expectations, while others were left deep in the field after a slog of a weekend.

With the 33-car field set, and finals week upcoming for high schools across the United States, it felt only fitting to sit back and analyze the qualifying performances of each team competing in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ biggest race.

Without further adieu, here are the grades for each organization in the IndyCar paddock.

AJ Foyt Racing: A-

AJ Foyt Racing had reason to smile after showing promising pace in Indy 500 qualifying. (Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.)


  • Tony Kanaan (10th)
  • Matheus Leist (11th)
  • James Davison (19th) [Entry filed as Foyt with Byrd / Hollinger / Belardi]

Why They Got the Grade

It wouldn’t be fair to give an ‘A’ to a team that didn’t place a single driver in the Fast Nine, but AJ Foyt Racing deserves a high score for turning heads without challenging for the pole.

Veteran and 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan lived up to expectation, soaring to a four-lap average of 227.664 mph. The run secured Kanaan the ‘best in class’ position of 10th, and even proved quicker than former teammate and ninth-place qualifier Scott Dixon’s 228.262 mph effort.

Foyt’s biggest surprise came from rookie Matheus Leist, who nearly matched Kanaan’s speed. The 19-year-old dropped a four-lap average of 227.571 mph. to slot in 11th, meaning he’ll be alongside his teammate when the field comes to take the green flag for his Indy 500 debut.

Both drivers will start within sight of the leaders. Considering their three cars started 24th, 26th and 32nd in 2017, that’s a feat worth celebrating.

James Davison also succeeded, surviving an eventful Bump Day and rose up the order on Sunday to claim 19th for the Foyt with Byrd / Hollinger / Belardi entry, securing Mazda Road to Indy owner Brian Belardi his first Indy 500 start as an owner.

Andretti Autosport: C-

Alexander Rossi’s nightmarish qualifying session proved symbolic of a difficult weekend for Andretti Autosport. (Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.)


  • Marco Andretti (12th) [Entry filed as Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian]
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay (14th)
  • Carlos Munoz (21st)
  • Stefan Wilson (23rd)
  • Zach Veach (25th)
  • Alexander Rossi (32nd)

Why They Got the Grade

Because they didn’t live up to the expectations set by recent years.

Andretti Autosport’s sextet all failed to qualify for the Fast Nine, losing out on the opportunity to challenge for the pole. Only two of the drivers – Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay – managed to qualify in the top 20, and 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi dropped to 32nd with a car he could barely hold onto during Sunday’s second round of time trials.

Each of the team’s returning drivers qualified worse than they managed in 2017. Munoz and Wilson slotting in 21st and 23rd fell close to expectation, given that both hadn’t made a start with the new aero kits. Veach’s 25th was a slight disappointment, albeit an understandable one given that he qualified last in his only other oval start of 2018 at ISM Raceway.

Practice results indicate that Andretti might have some pace for the race, and they managed to get all six of their machines into an Indy 500 that included two bumped entries. All is not lost, but Andretti

Carlin: B+

Despite being Indy 500 newcomers, Carlin put both of their two entries into the race with impressive pace. (Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.)


  • Charlie Kimball (15th)
  • Max Chilton (20th)

Why They Got the Grade

Because they put both cars in the Top 20 for their first Indy 500.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Carlin qualify so well at the Brickyard. Both Kimball and Chilton have managed finishes inside of the top five within the past two years, and Kimball even has an Indy 500 podium from 2015 on his resume.

Two experienced Indy drivers qualifying well isn’t a surprise, but a debuting Indy 500 team placing both cars well inside of the field is an impressive feat.

There were fears from some that Carlin might be one of the teams pushed out of ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ during Saturday’s Bump Day. Instead the group secured two solid starting positions that could potentially translate to success in next Sunday’s race.

Chip Ganassi Racing: C

Scott Dixon’s No. 9 Honda will roll off ninth for the Indy 500 after a slow final qualifying effort. Teammate Ed Jones will start a disappointing 29th. (Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.)


  • Scott Dixon (Ninth)
  • Ed Jones (29th)

Why They Got the Grade

They put an entry in the Fast Nine, so things weren’t all bad for Ganassi. But both of the team’s drivers struggled through Sunday’s session, setting them up for the worst possible scenario entering the day.

A decade removed from his lone Indy 500 win, veteran Scott Dixon was one of many drivers that struggled through qualifying in a Honda. The manufacturer was issued a time trial beatdown by Chevrolet’s Bowtie Brigade, placing no car better than fifth and securing only two cars in the top 11.

One of those two was Dixon. In the four-time IndyCar champion’s typical form, he outperformed expectation to snag a place in the Fast Nine. But the New Zealander ultimately ended the session slowest of the group, placing him on the outside of Row 3 for next Sunday’s race.

Sophomore Ed Jones suffered a much bigger letdown. A near-crash on his third lap sent the 2017 podium finisher free-falling down the running order. Jone ultimately slotted in 29th, ahead of just four of his competitors.

Jones proved last year that a deep starting spot can be overcome, and Dixon has found a way into contention throughout his IndyCar career. But Ganassi aren’t likely pleased with either result they ended qualifying weekend with.

Dale Coyne Racing: C+

Conor Daly’s joy came at the expense of teammate Pippa Mann, who failed to qualify for her seventh Indianapolis 500. (Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.)


  • Sebastien Bourdais (Fifth) [Entry filed as Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan]
  • Zachary Claman de Melo (13th)
  • Conor Daly (33rd) [Entry filed as Dale Coyne Racing dba Thom Burns Racing]
  • Pippa Mann (DNQ)

Why They Got the Grade

Have you ever done wonderful on the multiple choice section of a test, but saw your grade drop due to a bad answer on an essay question?

That’s sort of how Dale Coyne Racing’s (DCR) Indy 500 qualifying experience went.

By most measures the team has a lot to be proud of. Veteran Sebastien Bourdais bounced back from his injury during last year’s qualifications to secure fifth – leading the Honda contingent. Rookie Zachary Claman de Melo ran strong in a session he didn’t plan to run two weeks ago, qualifying a career-best 13th.

Conor Daly will start 33rd, but the Hoosier overcame two bumps on Saturday to lead Thom Burns Racing into the final week of the Month of May.

Those are all overwhelmingly positive results for DCR. But there’s a negative elephant in the room that needs to be addressed.

Pippa Mann lives for the Indy 500. The Briton has never competed full-time in IndyCar, but she’s found the funding to chase her Indy dreams six times in the seven years prior to 2018.

The 34-year-old seemed poised to make another underdog entry into the race this year, but she was left heartbroken on Bump Day as one of the two drivers that failed to qualify for the event.

DCR have much to celebrate from their Month of May to date, but that one dark moment will assuredly loom with the team for the next week.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: B-

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing managed to place both longtime driver Sage Karam and JR Hildebrand into the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500. (Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.)


  • Sage Karam (24th)
  • JR Hildebrand (27th)

Why They Got the Grade

Because both entries made the race, and that’s enough for this team to consider the weekend a success.

It’s difficult to grade Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, because they’re as consistent as any team in the paddock when it comes time for the Month of May. Sage Karam is competing for the group for the third-consecutive year, and along that stretch he’s qualified 23rd, 21st and 24th.

The lone new wrinkle to the group was the addition of a second car for this year’s race. That went to the infamous near-winner of the 2011 Indy 500 – JR Hildebrand.

He couldn’t match the top 20 speed he showed on Saturday, but Hildebrand placed his machine in the field with a 27th-place effort. Considering the context of his No. 66 team – a new second team and a driver that hadn’t raced the new aero kits prior to the Month of May – that’s an acceptable result.

How DRR will fare in the race remains to be seen. But both entries are in the race, and for an organization that competes solely at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that’s enough to be considered a success.

Ed Carpenter Racing: A

For the third time in his career, hometown hero Ed Carpenter will lead the field to green in the Indianapolis 500. (Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.)


  • Ed Carpenter (First)
  • Spencer Pigot (Sixth)
  • Danica Patrick (Seventh)

Why They Got the Grade

Ed Carpenter did it again.

For the third time in the past six years, Carpenter wowed the crowd to claim the pole for the Indy 500. The Indianapolis native laid down the only 230 mph circuit seen on Sunday, and secured the pole handily with his four-lap average speed of 229.618 mph.

Carpenter was far from the only one at Ed Carpenter Racing that left qualifying with reason to smile.

Spencer Pigot put on an impressive display of speed in his No. 21 Chevrolet, qualifying sixth for his first Indy 500 with ECR. The returning Danica Patrick also excelled, making the Fast Nine and qualifying seventh after getting up to speed with the new cars quicker than even she anticipated.

Whether the qualifying performance will translate to pace in the 500-mile race remains to be seen. ECR have had years in the past where they’ve held the pace, and others where they’ve drifted back a bit after the green flag flew.

Regardless, their qualifying performance was close to the best-case scenario for the team. Only a sweep of the podium could have done more to impress the fans in attendance.

Harding Racing: B-

Harding Racing delivered a serviceable result to qualify for their second Indy 500. (Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.)


  • Gabby Chaves (22nd)

Why They Got the Grade

Harding Racing ended qualifying about where they likely expected to be.

There was nothing flashy or overtly impressive about Chaves’ two qualifying attempts, but each got the job done to expectation. The Columbian slotted in 22nd at weekend’s end, improving three positions from the 25th-place effort he managed in Harding’s 2017 debut at the ‘Racing Capital of the World.’

The run wasn’t stellar. It didn’t set Harding up with the sort of great track position that could keep them out of trouble through the early stages of the race, and it didn’t make the team overly notable in any way.

But Chaves’ performance did the job it needed to. The team’s survival of Bump Day was never in jeopardy, and they’ll roll off in a position that gives them a chance to rise to the top 10 by race’s end.

It’s easy to forget that this team was just established one year ago, as they’ve quickly become a staple of the IndyCar community. A 22nd-place run might not be anything to write home about, but it’s nothing to write off or criticize, either. A suitable performance.

Juncos Racing: B

Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing impressed in Indy 500 qualifying. (Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.)


  • Kyle Kaiser (17th)

Why They Got the Grade

Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing delivered arguably the most overlooked performance of Indy 500 qualifying weekend

That fact can best be illustrated with a simple description of the team. A rookie and a one-car team managed to secure a top 20 just one year after the organization’s Indy 500 debut, making an improvement of 12 positions over the team’s best 2017 qualifying effort.

Kaiser was consistently fast throughout the weekend, staying well clear of the back of the field despite being on the shortlist of drivers that were throughout to be bump-able going into qualifying.

Setting any sort of expectation for Juncos’ race next weekend would be a challenge. But the team has cause for celebration after proving to be capable contenders during qualifying.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: D+

Qualifying weekend proved to be a difficult slog for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. (Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.)


  • Takuma Sato (16th)
  • Oriol Servia (26th) [Entry filed as Scuderia Corsa with RLL]
  • Graham Rahal (30th)

Why They Got the Grade

At least all three entries are in the race…

There isn’t much in the form of positivity to say about Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Indy 500 qualifying effort. The team struggled through the weekend, with defending winner Takuma Sato’s 16th-place result on Sunday serving as the high point of an organization-wide struggle.

The fact that Graham Rahal was in legitimate danger of being bumped on Saturday was an extreme disappointment, overshadowed only by the actual failure to qualify of another driver that we’ll get to in just a moment.

Oriol Servia’s 26th-place effort is difficult to properly gauge, given that he was driving for IndyCar newcomers Scuderia Corsa and the team were forced to overcome serious Saturday issues to make the race.

Regardless of the circumstances, that a team with serious ambitions to win the Indy 500 ended the weekend with an average starting position of 24th leaves little in the form of optimism and a host of questions to answer over the coming week.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: D-

Two years after claiming the pole for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, James Hinchcliffe failed to qualify for the race at all. (Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.)


  • Robert Wickens (18th)
  • Jay Howard (28th) [Entry filed as SPM / AFS Racing]
  • Jack Harvey (31st) [Entry filed as Meyer Shank Racing with SPM]
  • James Hinchcliffe (DNQ)

Why They Got the Grade

James Hinchcliffe failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.

Does anything else need to be said?

In what could be a season, and perhaps even career-altering mistake, Hinchcliffe and the No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team ended Saturday as one of the two teams that didn’t secure a spot in the field for the Indy 500.

Hinchcliffe entered the oval portion of the Month of May fifth in the championship standings, just 34 points out of the points lead. A good result in next Sunday’s event – one of two double-points races – could have shot the Canadian to the front of the championship conversation.

Instead Hinchcliffe is in danger of spending the prestigious event in the same position as 300,000+ others at IMS that day – as a spectator.

Robert Wickens delivered an 18th-place run that salvaged a minuscule glimmer of hope for SPM, and the teams associated with Jay Howard and Jack Harvey can celebrate a berth in the race after performances of 28th and 31st, respectively. So not all is lost.

But the team’s most marketable driver – and arguably the face of Honda in IndyCar – needing to have a ride purchased if he is to have any hope of competing in the sport’s biggest race is a failure that will continue to sting for a long time.

Team Penske: A

Simon Pagenaud’s runner-up run led the way in a strong qualifying performance for IndyCar stalwart Team Penske’s Month of May quartet. (Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.)


  • Simon Pagenaud (Second)
  • Will Power (Third)
  • Josef Newgarden (Fourth)
  • Helio Castroneves (Eighth)

Why They Got the Grade

Team Penske’s Indy 500 qualifying effort would have been near-perfect if it weren’t for the run of one Ed Carpenter.

After spending a couple years chasing speed at the Brickyard, Penske returned to form in a major way for the 102nd Running, tallying two positions on the front row and four of the top eight starting spots.

Simon Pagenaud led the way for the group, qualifying an Indy-best second for a race he hopes will turn his season around. Will Power followed in a strong third, with defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden following in fourth.

Helio Castroneves’ eighth-place run is a disappointment only because of what he managed to accomplish the day before. Despite his only 2018 start being last weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix, Castroneves led Saturday’s opening qualifying session.

Perhaps in a case of trying too hard after seeing Carpenter’s blistering run moments before, Castroneves struggled through his four laps on Sunday, dropping down to an average of 227.859 mph as he fell to eighth on the charts.

Castroneves’ run and the failure to capture pole put a slight damper on what was otherwise a tremendous qualifying weekend for Penske. All four of the team’s entries will start the 102nd Indy 500 with the fast cars and the lead in sight.

In the end, that’s all a team can ask for.

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Aaron Bearden is a Contributing Writer for Motorsports Tribune, handling coverage of both the Verizon IndyCar Series and ABB FIA Formula E Championship. A native Hoosier, Bearden has attended races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since he was three years old. He can be found on social media at @AaronBearden93.