By Ken de la Bastide
CNHI News Service
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Following a rain shower and cooler than normal May temperatures, drivers were having problems finding grip around Anderson Speedway on pole day qualifying Thursday for the Pay Less Little 500.
California driver JoJo Helberg went out early in the qualifying session and captured the first Little 500 pole of his career with a four-lap average speed of 80.56 mph and the quick lap of the day at 81.17 mph.
Nine-time Little 500 champion Eric Gordon, competing in his last race, used a different tactic by qualifying late in the session. Gordon will start in the middle of the front row with an average speed of 79.57 mph. Shane Hollingsworth grabbed the outside spot on the front row with an average speed of 79.56 mph.
“When we considered what took place last year,” Helberg said, “we expected the track conditions to get worse.”
Last year Helberg started in the middle of the front row and led the early laps before tangling with a lapped car and coming to rest against the outside retaining wall.
“Brian Olson will be spotting for me this year,” he said. “I think he will keep me aware of potential danger.”
Coming to Anderson Speedway this week, Helberg had a chance at a $50,000 bonus by winning the Must See Racing Winged Sprint feature at Winchester Speedway. A win on Wednesday at Anderson in the Must See Racing 60 would have kept that chance alive.
“It’s more important to me to win the Little 500 than the bonus,” Helberg said. “Starting up front doesn’t mean a whole lot like last year.”
Gordon said the team waited until late in the day with the intent of waving off a first qualifying attempt and then making a hard charge.
“I thought we would wave it off,” he said of the qualifying run. “Thought we would put heat in the tires and then go to the end of the line.”
Gordon said he leaned on the right front tire during the warm-up lap to put heat in the tire.
“When I didn’t see the wave off flag on the third lap, I figured I needed not to mess up,” he said. “Starting up front makes a big difference.”
Hollingsworth said the team was satisfied with the qualifying run, which put him on the front row for the second consecutive year.
“We were trying to get heat in the tires and thought about getting in a few extra laps,” he said. “It was interesting track conditions today so we made the qualifying run early. We’ve been pretty happy with the car all week.”
The fastest 15 drivers locked into the starting grid Thursday with the remainder of the 33-car field to be set during qualifications from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. today.
Bobby East, a USAC champion but Little 500 rookie, will start fourth with Aaron Pierce qualifying in the middle of the second row and former Little 500 champion Shane Cottle on the outside.
Bryan Clauson, who ran in the Indianapolis 500 for Sarah Fisher Racing, will start seventh with defending champion Brian Tyler starting 11th.
Three-time Little 500 winner Jeff Bloom, looking to make his 31st consecutive start, qualified 22nd.
Pendleton’s Travis Welpott led the Madison County contingent, posting the 20th quick time, followed by Alexandria’s Donnie Adams Jr. at 24th and Anderson’s Jim Sheets at 31st.