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Tagliani's drama ends with Indy 500 start

INDIANAPOLIS - Alex Tagliani never dreamed his first Indianapolis 500 start would come with so much drama.

But he'll take anything after Sunday's chaotic qualifying finish - even a replacement ride from the back of the 33-car field in this weekend's race.

'When they told me, I was like 'Really?' I didn't even know that rule existed,' Tagliani said Tuesday.

Hours after being bumped from the field, Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart announced he would replace Bruno Junqueira in the No. 36 car with his full-time Canadian driver.

The decision ended a wild weekend for Tagliani, whose saga started Saturday when he qualified 26th with a four-lap average of 220.553 mph - a speed Bachelart and Tagliani thought was good enough to make the field.

When the weather improved Sunday, six drivers took advantage by withdrawing their original qualifying times only to run faster, Tagliani wanted to join the club. But Bachelart stuck with the team's strategy and decided not to risk a mistake.

It proved costly for the former Champ Car driver.

During the final hour, Tagliani found himself dancing in and out of the qualifying line three different times, and when he was ready to go, time ran out.

So he watched helplessly as Ryan Hunter-Reay finished his run in 220.597, 0.044 seconds ahead of his previous time and enough to knock Tagliani out of the race.

For the next hour, Tagliani sat in the corner of his garage, crying in solitude, replaying every moment of those final minutes over and over in his mind, wishing he could have done something different.

Bachelart understood.

'At 6 o'clock when that gun went off, I was sitting over in the grandstands, crying,' Bachelart said. 'You know the whole month is full of pressure, and when the pressure goes down, you have to let it out. That's a bit of the magic at the Indy 500.'

Some offered condolences to Tagliani, but the words rang hollow until Barnhart mentioned in passing that he would accept the team's decision.

Tagliani, unaware he could replace Junqueira, didn't even know what Barnhart was talking about.

'Brian kind of came up to me, almost in tears, and said he never imagined he would have to tell the fastest guy of the day he couldn't go out. It just crushed me to hear that,' Tagliani said. 'He was trying to help, but it only made it worse.'

Bachelart had already told reporters he had no intention of making a change, but when team sponsors started calling, and Bachelart began looking at financial implications and the points championship, he had no choice.

He informed Junqueira of the move, with a promise to help him find a ride, and then walked over to the still devastated Tagliani.

'It's like if something happens with your significant other and then you find a solution,' Tagliani said. 'You're not going to start jumping up and down one second later."