Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Forgotten Qualifier

In 2006, Jay Howard was the Indy Lights champion, and finished 2nd at Indy in the Freedom 100.

In 2007, Howard ran a partial Lights schedule of 3 races,

In 2008, Howard was entered in the 2nd car of Marty Roth, only to be pulled in favor of John Andretti. He would not compete in Indy 500 qualifying that year.

In 2009, Howard contested a partial Firestone Indy Lights season. He finished 4th in the Firestone Freedom 100, but lost his ride after that race.

In 2010, Howard was in the field of 33 on Bump Day, only to have the team pull his time and send him back out. They could not find the speed, and so Jay Howard would be frustrated yet again.

Suffice it to say, Howard's history at Indy has not been what one would hope for. But in the offseason we learned he would again bring a Service Central sponsorship to Indy, and that Sam Schmidt/Rahal Letter Lanigan would indeed run him for this year's Indy 500 qualification attempt.

Some drivers make it at Indy on their first try. Others still never make it, either too slow or a victim of circumstances. Others have to fight and claw and scrape to show they do, in fact, belong in the field for the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Jay Howard never gave up, kept fighting, and will start in the Centennial Anniversary 500.

The odd thing is, it seemed like after previous luck at Indy, their would have been more scrutiny, more pressure on Jay, especially from fans who tend to never forget the slightest thing. Yet Howard's weekend was just about as quiet as one could be. He took the #88 Service Central car out on Pole Day, qualified relatively comfortably on his first try, and that was that.

I mentioned elsewhere it seemed like we all woke up the next day, only to discover Jay Howard had apparently made the field at some point on Pole Day. That's being a little flip with it, but considering Howard's story, it is surprising we didn't hear more about his accomplishment.

Now, Howard sits as perhaps one of the more intriguing, mysterious drivers in this field. What are his chances? After waiting all this time and working so hard to get here, what will Jay Howard do? His car seems solid; can he move through the field quickly? Or will he be an early exit from the race he's waiting so long to be a part of? Running in a Sarah Fisher car as part of a team that quickly went sour (and admittedly, was not well-considered by Howard in the aftermath), he finished far back in his few IndyCar races he had in 2010. But none of those races were Indy, and they weren't with this team, either.

That, as they say, is why we run the race. However things pan out on Sunday, in the afterward Jay Howard will no longer be an Indy 500 rookie. He'll be a 500 veteran, one who earned his place in the field, and a chance at even greater glory. What he does with that chance will be the next part of what's been a long, long journey.

Howard: Indy 500 Qualifier!
Image courtesy of IndyCar Media
For more about Jay, check out his IndyCar Advocate Six Quick Questions interview from earlier this year!

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