Happy Fast Friday! I'm headed out to the track today with my oldest daughter, but there's so much to discuss, I thought it was time for a little trending review. Below is a look at whose stock is rising, whose is falling, and who could go either way.
Of course, there's still plenty of time for teams to turn it all around (or lose it all), but here's how things stand before cars take the track for Fast Friday:
Sam Schmidt Motorsports: The Schmidt Syndicate is doing well, with main drivers Alex Tagliani and Townsend Bell right at the top of the speed charts. Their "extended network" of drivers, such as Bertrand Baguette and Jay Howard, seem to be finding speed, too. Ally Dragon Racing remains a bit of a concern, but all in all, SSM is showing Penske and Ganassi they don't necessarily have the front to themselves.
Penske Racing: At the end of Thursday's session, Penske gave us a peek at what they could do, as Will Power went to session P1, Ryan Briscoe hit P3, and Helio Castroneves snagged P4. Yeah, I'd say they'll be ready for Pole Day.
Panther Racing: JR Hildebrand does not look like a rookie out there. Panther's team of Rice and Hildebrand could be one of the most potent combos this weekend and the next. Hildebrand has the 6th-fastest practice lap of the month so far, and that puts him in pretty good company. Rice has had a solid return thus far, and is looking like a Pole Day qualifier.
Sarah Fisher Racing: Ed Carpenter continues to look fast without a tow, which is great news for this team. A number of folks in Gasoline Alley seem impressed with this team, a perpetual underdog that's looking for their best-ever start at Indy. Let's see if they can keep this rolling and grab it.
Dan Wheldon: Wheldon didn't seem all that fast earlier in the week, but Thursday really seemed to show the Lionheart and BHA finding a bit of a groove. If the 2005 Indy 500 winner can keep this up, he and Bryan Herta should have a little bit of breathing room after Saturday.
Danica Patrick & John Andretti: The two Andretti Autosport drivers have both looked extremely comfortable so far this month. Danica's only put in 64 laps in the 7 car, but seems fast and at ease. The runs today that looked like a qualification simulation also seemed quick, which is a good sign. John Andretti also seems very comfortable and at ease this year, and I wonder if we won't see his best qualifying effort in some time.
Conquest Racing: On one hand, Pippa Mann broke 225 mph to land at P21 on Thursday, and seems to be continually showing progress. On the other hand, we've seen next to nothing out of Sebastian Saavedra so far, who's near the bottom . Right now, I'd be exceptionally skeptical of Conquest putting both cars in the show. We know Conquest wasn't bad at Indy last year, but this isn't last year, is it? 40-41 drivers changes things in a hurry.
Alex Lloyd: Reading Lloyd's comments and Twitter account, he seems a bit frustrated at the difficulty in finding the speed needing in the #19 BSA Coyne car. He did manage a 224.5 on the day, which is great progress over what he was running earlier, but only good for 28th-quickest on a day where 21 drivers hit 225 mph or more. Lloyd and the Dale Coyne crew have some work to do before quals, but if I had to have someone in that car working on it, it'd be Alex. He's going to be one of the most interesting drivers to watch today.
Mike Conway: Mike just can't seem to get anything out of that 27 car. He's turned over 130 laps in it, and it just doesn't seem to have much going for it. As with Tony Kanaan's struggles last year, Andretti Autosport is going to try like crazy to find a combo or solution to work, but even if Conway isn't sweating it, I am just a bit. Nothing's written in stone yet, but neither are the speeds in that car keeping pace with the field's progress.
AFS Racing: Rafa Matos has turned 146 laps, and his speeds are still only good for 40th on the combined practice standings. Rafa's quick at Indy, and AFS Racing has some good people on their crew, but it's going to be a fight for this team. I do think they have more in the tank than we've seen--don't write them off yet.
HVM Racing: Brand-new car, gone. Driver, injured. Any chance of putting it in the field on Pole Day, finished. HVM has a lot to figure out after Simona de Silvestro's accident on Thursday. Their T-car is not exactly considered a speed demon, and the team has a lot of work to do. The big question: do they wait until Bump Day and go with Simona, or do they try to have a replacement driver qualify the car for her and then step aside for the race. If that T-car doesn't shape up,
Things aren't completely dire for HVM: they have one of the toughest drivers in the series in de Silvestro. If anyone can shake this one off and come back to put it in the field, she can. It's a tall order, but nothing's impossible when it comes to the Indy 500.