Since 1939, the Indy 500 has used a four-lap qualifying distance in order to limit the field. In 2012, the same process will be used over two days on Saturday and Sunday in order to create a field of 33 cars.
The first day of qualifying is commonly referred to as "Pole Day" and sees the competing drivers battle for 24 of the available 33 spots. The top-nine of that field compete in another qualifying distance known as "The Fast Nine." The driver who wins "The Fast Nine" qualifying is then locked into the pole position for the race, while the other drivers are placed according to their finish.
The second day of qualifying is known as "Bump Day" as the remaining drivers battle for the final nine spots in the field of 33. From here, finishers in "The Fast Nine" can be bumped by their position by drivers who register better times than they did. However, if a driver is bumped from the top-nine, they are able to try and better their time because each driver is allowed to attempt three runs per day. Once they reach the maximum limit of three runs they can not log another attempt.
Once qualifying concludes, spots 10-33 are determined on the day in which the driver qualified as well as the driver's qualifying times. Drivers who qualified on Day 1 are given priority.
The 2012 Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Schedule is as follows:
May 19: Qualifying from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET
May 19: Fast Nine from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET
May 20: Qualifying from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET
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