Castroneves is top Chevy driver in Nashville qualifying.
NASHVILLE, Tenn., July 19, 2002 -- Helio Castroneves cemented his position as a frontrunner for tomorrow night's Indy Racing League Firestone Indy 200 with a front-row starting spot on the gleaming white concrete of Nashville Superspeedway. Castroneves was the top Chevrolet qualifier with a 203.363 mph qualifying lap in Marlboro Team Penske's Dallara, a heartbeat behind Billy Boat's pole-winning Infiniti at 203.774 mph. Sam Hornish Jr. was third fastest in Pennzoil Panther Racing's Chevrolet Dallara as Chevy Indy V8 engines captured four of the first six qualifying positions.
"Drivers always think they have a little bit more, and I think I could have taken the pole," said Castroneves. "I was hitting the rev limiter in fifth gear on the back straight, but I didn't want to take a chance on shifting. Now it's in the back of my mind, should I have taken the chance? But I'm happy to be on the front row."
Twenty of the 22 qualifiers eclipsed Greg Ray's 199.922 mph pole-winning run in last year's inaugural race. Nashville Superspeedway is the only concrete track on the IRL circuit, and the only 1.33-mile oval on the tour.
"It's going to be a new experience racing on a concrete oval," Castroneves conceded. "I've run on concrete on a road course turning right and left, but here it's going to be different. So far in our tests and practice, my car seems to respond very well to the surface, but the race is going to be a learning experience."
Hornish came to Music City third in the championship standings, and he was satisfied with his second-row starting position.
"We didn't expect to be on the pole," he said. "We worked real hard on our race setup, and we didn't work very hard on our qualifying setup. This is definitely a handling track -- it's a mix between the 1-mile and 1.5-mile ovals. The concrete is rougher than asphalt, but it also has more grip that will allow side-by-side racing and faster speeds."
Alex Barron continued his steady progress, putting Blair Racing's Rayovac Chevrolet Dallara fifth on the grid. His previous best qualifying performance was an eighth place in Richmond, Va.
"The number we put up in qualifying was the same as we ran in practice, so I'm happy with that," said Barron. "We've been finding more power with the Chevy engine and I think it showed. We're trying to make the car as efficient as possible for the race."
Richie Hearn also continued to impress with Sam Schmidt Motorsports' Chevrolet Dallara, taking the No. 6 spot at 202.915 mph.
"I left a little on the table," Hearn reported. "I ran 203 mph this morning by myself. I got a little loose in turn 2 -- nothing big, but enough to scrub off some speed. This is a tricky little place. The concrete is bumpier than the asphalt, and the grip is different."
Felipe Giaffone is the highest qualifier with a G-Force chassis powered by a Chevrolet engine. Giaffone's 202.915 mph placed him eighth on the grid.
"We dropped a tenth of a second from our practice times this morning, but the car was good and I was flat all the way around," said Giaffone. "That's pretty much what we had."
Buddy Lazier, winner of last year's inaugural IRL event in Nashville, will start the 200-lap contest from 12th on the grid.
"We're looking to turn our season around," Lazier declared. "We know how this track changes. The concrete reacts differently to temperature and it reacts differently as rubber goes down. We know what to expect."
The Firestone Indy 200 will start at 8:30 p.m. EDT (7:30 p.m. local time) on Saturday night, July 20. The 266-mile, 200-lap race will be televised live on ESPN2 and broadcast live on the IMS Radio Network.