INDIANAPOLIS, May 21 -- For the first time ever, Roger Penske -- the most successful team owner in the history of the Indianapolis 500 with 10 wins -- has failed to qualify for next Sunday's Indianapolis 500. This startling development occurred Sunday during final qualifications at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when defending champion Al Unser, Jr., was too slow to make the race and Sweden's Stefan Johansson bumped two-time 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi out of the field in the final 12 minutes. Besides Penske losing a spot in the race for the first time in 27 years, it also marked the first time an active defending Indianapolis 500 winner has failed to qualify for the race, the first time Unser and Fittipaldi have not been in the 500 field and the first time since 1962 a driver named Unser has been absent in the race. Drivers who made the field were Carlos Guerrero, Scott Sharp, Johansson and Davy Jones. Penske took full responsibility for the most bitter disappointment in his racing career. 'I've got to take the responsibility for not getting into the race, but a lot of my fellow team owners came up to me and offered me help and I want to thank them for that from the bottom of my heart,' said Penske, who has won the last two 500 races, three out of the last four and 10 overall. 'We are not going to buy our way into this race. We had an opportunity to compete on a level playing field and we did not get the job done.'
After failing to qualify during the first weekend of trials, Penske took extreme measures to try to get his two drivers into the Indianapolis 500 field. He acquired a 1994 Reynard chassis from Pagan Racing last Monday after the Penske chassis proved uncompetitive. By midweek, Penske had reached an agreement with Rahal/Hogan Racing to acquire two 1995 Lola/Mercedes-Benz. Almost as if the team was jinxed, the Lolas also were slower than other cars of the same type. Unser had two qualifications attempts waved off on Saturday for slow speed and was down to one last attempt. Fittipaldi drove a qualification speed on Saturday that would have put him easily into the lineup with runs of 224.955 miles an hour, 225.445 mph and 226.097 before a last lap estimated at 226.30 was waved off by Penske. Earlier in the day, Guerrero of Mexico made the field with a four-lap average of 225.831 mph. But as the track temperatures warmed up, conditions were not conducive to fast qualification speeds. As the track cooled, teams not in the field began to frantically line up to make the race with three positions remaining. Sharp was the first to qualify late in the day when he took to the track in a car owned by A.J. Foyt and ran a four-lap average of 225.711. Fittipaldi was next and his four-lap average was 224.907, which was slower than what his average would have been on Saturday. With the field at the 33-car limit, bumping began and that left Franck Freon on the bubble. NASCAR Winston Cup driver Jones knocked Freon out of the race with a four-lap average of 225.135 mph. That put Fittipaldi on the bubble and he withstood challenges from Johansson and Marco Greco, setting up the unenviable situation where the only way his teammate, Unser, could get into the race, was to bump Fittipaldi out of the race. But Unser's bid failed on the first lap when the popoff valve on his turbocharger blew and Unser ran a lap at 221.992 mph. He upped the speed to 224.092 on the second followed by laps of 225.113 and 225.226, but his four-lap average of 224.101 mph was too slow. Unser stalked off the race course in bitter disappointment at failing to makethe biggest race in the world as the defending champion. With one driver in the field, the bad news for Marlboro Team Penske continued when Johansson ran a four-lap average of 225.547 mph to knock Fittipaldi out of the field. 'Roger Penske was the last guy in the world we wanted to bump out of the race because he has helped me for so many years,' said Tony Bettenhausen, team owner for Johansson who is aligned with Penske throughout the season by running the Penske chassis. 'My driver is a gunfighter -- the Dale Earnhardt of Indy Car racing. He turned the wing all the way back and let it go.' Johansson also displayed mixed emotions at bumping Fittipaldi. 'I'm genuinely very sad it had to be Emerson who got bumped out of the race, but it is the nature of this place,' Johansson said. And so for the first time in their careers, Penske, Unser and Fittipaldi will be watching the Indianapolis 500 as spectators. 'It hurts,' Unser said. 'What Indy means to me, it is really hard to put into words how it feels now, other than it hurts.'