INDIANAPOLIS — Roger Penske’s strategy beat Michael Andretti by inches Saturday – 9.168 inches to be exact.
In the closest pole duel in Indianapolis 500 history, Team Penske sent points leader Will Power onto the track with two minutes left in the Pole Day shootout – a shrewd move that prevented three Andretti drivers from taking one last shot at the pole and preserving it for his own guy, Ryan Briscoe.
It was a remarkable finish to a wild afternoon.
Briscoe was the surprise winner of his first Indy pole with a four-lap average of 226.484 mph. He completed the 10-mile qualification run .0023 seconds quicker than James Hinchcliffe. The previous record was set in 1970 when Al Unser defeated Johnny Rutherford by .01 seconds over the four-lap qualifying run.
“My name will go down forever for something that I won here at the Indy 500,” Briscoe said.
It will go straight into the record book.
How close was the battle?
When Hinchcliffe left the post-race news conference, Briscoe held his fingers about an inch apart and explained it was that close.
Hinchcliffe already knew better.
“It’s a gust of wind, it’s a shadow over a part of the track,” Hinchcliffe said, before holding up his name card and explaining that was the distance. “I’m going to lose a little bit of sleep at how small the margin was to Ryan.”
Nobody knows how to play this game better than Penske.
The iconic racing owner has now won five of the past seven poles at Indy and extended his own Indy record to 17 poles. Briscoe is the 11th driver to win a pole for Penske, and it comes one week before Penske celebrates the 40th anniversary of his first career Indy win 1972.