INDIANAPOLIS - Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti watched the number of Indianapolis 500 qualifying spots dwindle in the final minutes of Bump Day last weekend, and the Andretti Autosport teammates knew one of them could end up knocking the other out of the race.
"We were talking about that this may come down to cannibalism," Hunter-Reay said.
It didn't come down to cannibalism. It came down to politics. And money.
Hunter-Reay's No. 28 Honda was indeed knocked out of the centennial anniversary of the 500 when Andretti snatched the last spot in the 33-car field just as qualifying ended.
A day later, Hunter-Reay found himself asking for directions to A.J. Foyt Racing's garage after a last-second deal that allowed him to replace Bruno Junqueira in the No. 41 car owned by the open-wheel legend.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the switch highlighted both the promising growth within the series and the still-wide chasm between the haves and the have-nots.
The fact that Junqueira qualified 19th - ahead of more deep-pocketed teams with established drivers such as Hunter-Reay, Danica Patrick, and Ryan Briscoe - is proof of the increased parity, not a terrible thing for a series dominated in recent years by Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
But the deal to replace him with Hunter-Reay - who unlike Junqueira has a full-time ride and a handful of major sponsors - underscored the importance that who you know can be just as important as how fast you go.
Foyt, who also will field the No. 14 driven by full-time driver Vitor Meira, defended the move.
It thrust Hunter-Reay into a difficult position. He has suffered through a miserable spring - he's 23d in the standings through four races - and now he knows he is viewed as the guy who stole a ride from another driver.
"Nobody on our team wanted it to go this way in any way, trust me; I didn't either, but it's not about me," Hunter-Reay said.
The move means his sponsors will have their logos splashed on a car Sunday.
"It's about keeping the doors open on the 28 car," Hunter-Reay said. "It's about keeping the jobs of 60 people."
It's not the first time a driver has been replaced at the last minute due to something other than illness or injury. Junqueira lost his ride in the 2009 Indy 500 to Conquest Racing teammate Alex Tagliani, this year's pole-sitter.