INDIANAPOLIS — Sunday, Kyle Kaiser provided what may be the biggest storyline of the month of May to this point, edging Fernando Alonso by an average speed of 0.019 seconds in the Last Row Shootout using a backup car with no sponsorship to claim the 33rd and final spot in the 103rd running of the Indy 500.
“It was surreal,” Kaiser said. “Complete explosion of emotions. I don’t think there’s a word to really describe that feeling.”
Now that he’s in, what’s next?
“Go to the front,” Kaiser said.
Easier said than done, however. According to indianapolismotorspeedway.com, no driver to start in last place has ever been first to cross the bricks on lap 200. The furthest back any winner has started was 28th in the inaugural running in 1911 and 25 years later in 1936.
“At first, it’s a bit of a bummer. It makes life a whole lot easier when you have to deal with six or seven cars in front of you rather than 21,” Ryan Hunter-Reay said. “Starting back in the hornets’ nest is not a great thing … It’s more chaos back there for sure.”
Conor Daly knows a little bit about starting in the back of the pack at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Last year, he qualified 33rd, and he said the mindset has to be all about being patient, something Juan Pablo Montoya advised him of in 2017.
“Patience is key in this race,” Daly said. “I think that’s the most important thing I’ve learned. Montoya told me that two years ago. He was like, ‘Hey man, you’re really fast. Just be a little bit more patient.’ I was like, ‘Alright, yeah. Probably a good idea.’”
Despite the odds, all hope is not lost for Kaiser, and Daly, Hunter-Reay and Montoya can all attest.
Daly was able to move up 12 spots to finish 21st in his last-place start a year ago. In 2014, Hunter-Reay found himself in front midway through the race and held on to win after starting 19th. One year later, Montoya came away victorious after falling to 30th due to a crash in the first turn of the entire race.
Kaiser said he’s confident his car can perform well Sunday, but he also knows he might need some chips to fall his way to ultimately get to the front.
“It’s tough to pass 32 cars,” Kaiser said. “If you catch a lucky yellow at the right time, you can cycle from the back to the front, you can cycle from the front to the back.”
Hunter-Reay has started in last before. His advice? Trust the car, be confident and let everything come to you.
“It’s no fun back there, but just settle into a rhythm,” Hunter-Reay said. “Set about your day picking them off one by one.”
Kaiser already shocked the racing world just getting into the field. Now, he’s ready to do it all over again.
“We’ve seen a lot of fairy tales happen at this track,” Kaiser said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we could be the first to do that again.”
Contact Zach Piatt with any comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.