With no bumping expected, Indy 500 changes qualifying format (again) to add drama

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IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials have again tinkered with the qualifying format for the Indianapolis 500 in hopes of adding drama and filling the likely void of bumping on May 21-22. Here are the changes:

12 cars compete for pole on Sunday in place of Fast Nine

Rather than the fastest nine drivers from Saturday determining the pole, the pool of drivers competing for that spot on the inside of Row 1 at the green flag — and the coveted $100,000 prize — will expand to 12 this year, officials announced Tuesday afternoon, with the addition of another qualifying round to set the front-runners.

As has been the case for several years, Day 1 of Indy 500 qualifying will begin in a randomized order via a draw following Fast Friday for each car to make its initial run. Until the final gun sounds at 5:50 p.m., drivers and teams will then be allowed to hop into one of two lanes, should they wish to make another attempt.

The priority lane: To enter Lane 1, a driver must withdraw their time currently posted, and their new four-lap average will slot them into the field accordingly. Because of the added risk, they get priority of cars trying to get back onto the track.

Lane 2: Teams have additional safety in this lane because their new time will only count if it's better than their previous run.

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Two rounds of qualifying to determine the pole

Should there be just 33 entries, cars ranked 13th-33rd on the speed charts will be locked-in after Saturday, with Sunday deciding the order of the first four rows. The extra front-of-the-field qualifying session starts Sunday with the Top 12 qualifying session, starting at 4 p.m. — the start of a two-hour NBC broadcast window. Each of the fastest 12 cars from Saturday will have the opportunity to make a single four-lap run, with a running order of the 12th-fastest to fastest. The fastest six of these cars then move onto the Firestone Fast Six, and cars 7th-12th on the speed charts will be slotted into the race field accordingly.

In the Firestone Fast Six, cars will make their lone attempt in order of slowest to fastest from the Top 12 session, and they'll be slotted into the field's first two rows based on this final qualifying attempt. The fastest car earns the pole.

In a change to the last couple years, the final Indy 500 practice before Carb Day (May 27) will be held the following day: Monday, May 23, from 12-2 p.m., and that day, fans will only be permitted in the infield. Bronze and silver badges will be honored for gate admission and corresponding garage and pit access.

Indy 500 qualifying schedule

Saturday, May 21

9-10:30 a.m.: Pre-qualifying full-field practice (Peacock)

12-5:50 p.m.: Day 1 of Indy 500 qualifying (setting positions 13-33, or 13-30 if more than 33 entries) (Peacock)

Sunday, May 22

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Last chance qualifying practice, if necessary (Peacock)

12:30-2 p.m.: Top 12 practice (Peacock)

2-3 p.m.: Last chance qualifying, if necessary (Peacock)

4 p.m.: Start of two-hour NBC broadcast

4-4:45 p.m.: Top 12 qualifying (NBC)

5:10-5:40 p.m.: Firestone Fast Six (NBC)

Monday, May 23

12-2 p.m.: Indy 500 practice

How do you qualify for the Indy 500?

A full Indianapolis 500 qualifying attempt is four laps around the 2½-mile oval.

Indianapolis 500 tickets

Here's what's available for practice, qualifying, Carb Day and the race

Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at nlbrown@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indy 500 qualifying format changes to add drama without bumping