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Ben Smith

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Sebastian Saavedra, left, of Colombia, is hit by Mikhail Aleshin, of Russia, on the start of the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis IndyCar auto race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis on May 10.

Revved-up format qualifies as mind-boggling

– I'm with the Russian guy. This deal's a tax code written in Klingon.

And so Mikhail Aleshin just looks at his inquisitor, who only wants to know what the young Russian thinks about the Indianapolis 500's new qualification setup, aka I Went To What Used To Be Pole Day At Indy, And The Bureau Of Motor Vehicles Broke Out.

There's a Group 1 and a Group 2 and a Group 3. There's a Qualifying Line 1 and a Qualifying Line 2. There were points for qualifying positions Saturday, which was really just pre-qualifying, and there will be a different set of points for qualifying today – which is the actual qualifying, because everything that happened Saturday got wiped as clean as a germaphobe's kitchen at 6 p.m.

Which brings us back to Aleshin. “That's a good question,” he finally answers the man asking about the new qualification system, aka Calculus Wasn't Hard Enough So We Came Up With This.

Then he says the real trick is telling the folks back home in Moscow about the qualification process, which takes a two-page handout to explain.

“They ask me how the qualifying goes,” Aleshin says. “I just tell them it … goes.”

And went, and went, which was the good thing about it. Thirty-three entries, the full complement, posted official qualifying runs by 1:30 p.m. Then most went out again, because under the new rules, if you ran slower, your original run stood – at least until the end of the day, and at least if you chose to enter qualifying Line 2 and not Line 1, which was reserved for those pulling their previous time.

Confused yet?

Well, then just know that Ed Carpenter stuck a 230.114 mph four-lap run to lead everyone early, and then a 230.661 to lead everyone late. Rain made a cameo appearance, and after it stopped a whole bunch of people began laying down 230s, and if that was great stuff it lacked a climactic moment, because there was no climactic moment.

There was only a jumped-up practice day that drew what practice days usually draw here, which is to say a congregation of tens. And if the goal was to turn the weekend into a real Weekend, instead of just Pole Day and a no-bump Bump Day, it only half-succeeded.

Today will definitely matter, and Saturday was fun. But kind of confusing fun.

“You have two kinds of possibilities. You can try to (improve) your lap, but if you don't go fast enough then you can lose your previous spot and that's not good,” Aleshin said.

“It's different than in years past, in that you can post a time now without losing your previous time,” fellow rookie Jack Hawksworth countered.

Hawksworth 1, Aleshin 1.

And the rest of us?

Well, a bit before noon Saturday, here came Kurt Busch, Mr. Double, who'd put up a number early that left him out of the Fast Nine. A little later, he'd get into the Fast Nine; even later, after he'd left for his NASCAR gig, he'd be knocked out of it again.

But for the time being, everything seemed as clear as … um, really dirty glass.

“Can we get one more run? Maybe,” Busch said. “Will track conditions be ideal as they were this morning? Could be. Is there any more speed left in the car? Possibly.

“So … no definite answers here.”

Gee. Ya think?

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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