Michael Andretti is confident that his team's struggle to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 does not mean it lacks the speed to win this weekend's race.
All four of Andretti Autosport's regular drivers had to wait until Bump Day to get in the field, and while Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti made the cut and will start 26th and 28th respectively, Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay both failed to qualify. A fifth Andretti car run in collaboration with Richard Petty for John Andretti took 17th on the grid.
But team boss Michael Andretti is adamant that when it comes to race performance, his cars will be in great shape. At least one Andretti car has finished in the top three at Indianapolis every year since he became a team owner in 2003, with Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti winning the race in Andretti Green entries in 2005 and 2007 respectively.
"I think we're going to be really strong on race day," Andretti said. "Our history is not qualifying here; our history is the race.
"I really feel like we're going to have good race cars and be really competitive. I think last year we had a similar type qualifying effort, if you remember Tony [Kanaan] started 32nd and Marco started deep in the field, and they were both contending for the win."
Despite fellow series giants Ganassi and Penske also having various dramas in qualifying while smaller teams Sam Schmidt Motorsports - which took pole with Alex Tagliani - thrived, Andretti believes the usual frontrunners will prevail in race trim.
"I think we're there, and unfortunately I think we're going to be contending for the win with either a Ganassi or a Penske. It's probably the way it's going to come down.
"There are other good cars, I think Tag and those guys, but they've shown speed. We'll see how they are when you have 33 cars out there because it's a totally different day."
Andretti said the failure to get two of his cars in the field was partly because the entry is so competitive this year. He thinks the quality of the grid is higher even than it was on the eve of the CART/Indy Racing League split in the mid-1990s.
"[In] 1995 it wasn't this competitive, in my mind," he said. "I just feel that the quality that was out there this year was just unmatched in the history of this Speedway, in my mind, from the drivers to the teams. I think this was the toughest it's ever been."
Andretti's non-qualifying drivers Hunter-Reay and Conway said the result was extremely hard to come to terms with.
"I can't even process this right now. It's just devastating," said Hunter-Reay, who was ironically bumped out of the field by Marco Andretti's last-gasp effort.
"We struggled all month, or all week, to find speed, and it just wasn't there. It wasn't enough in the end. This is terrible. It was my team-mate that bumped me out of the field. I've been on that side of it before. In 2009, I was the last car out on track, and I bumped my way into the field. I know what that's like.
"This is a hard one to take. I don't know how it's going to be on race day."
Conway used up all his permitted qualifying attempts without finding enough speed to make the cut.
"It's a tough break - both me and Ryan, not in the show," he said. "I'm pretty gutted. Danica spent some time with me, putting me back together, after I got back to the garage.
"I'm obviously happy for Danica, Marco and John to be in, but gutted for me and Ryan. I never wanted to experience this feeling. You see it happen every year, and you hope it's not you. It's not nice."