Travis Gregg earned his second consecutive Menards Infiniti Pro Series pole this season during qualifying for Saturday's Phoenix 100 at Phoenix International Raceway. Gregg started from the pole at the season opener at Miami two weeks ago and led...
Travis Gregg earned his second consecutive Menards Infiniti Pro Series pole this season during qualifying for Saturday's Phoenix 100 at Phoenix International Raceway. Gregg started from the pole at the season opener at Miami two weeks ago and led flag to flag to score his first Pro Series victory.
Gregg's Sam Schmidt Motorsports teammates Jaime Camara and Chris Festa will start second and third, respectively, marking the first time in series history that teammates have swept the top three qualifying positions.
Camara, who was second in the qualifying order, turned a lap at 155.377 mph and then stood nervously watching the timing monitors as the remaining competitors completed their runs. "I've got to wait for the other guys," he said. "There are good guys that need to go and have their times. But I'm going to pray that I'm the first one - I want to make the pole at Phoenix. We had a practice here in January, and I was the fastest. I'm hoping I'll be the pole here."
Pole or not, Jaime likes this track and is looking forward to the race. "You've got to know how to drive to be fast here. It's a good track for me. I think it's going to be the hardest race of the year. It's a hundred laps - it's a long race."
Last in the qualifying line, Gregg bumped his teammate from the pole with a speed of 156.295 mph on his first lap. "We never ran this quick today," said Gregg, whose best lap after two practice sessions was 150.918 mph. "It's kind of surprising going out there and setting a lap time like that. I'm very excited, very happy." The extra speed came from a pep talk just before the attempt. "I was speaking with my engineer," Travis recalled, "and he said 'Sometimes you need to cowboy up and just push it a little bit harder.' That's all I thought about when I was out there - I've got to push a little harder. And the car did it. And here we are!"
Travis is looking forward to tomorrow's race. "It's a unique track," he said. "It's challenging to pass, and it should be an exciting race. I have two teammates that are going to be behind me. They're going to be pushing me pretty hard, too. They've got good cars, they're good drivers. It should be fun to watch."
Teammate Chris Festa put the third Schmidt car on the inside of the second row, at 155.106 mph. He figured that he left something on the table, though. "I made a little bit of a mistake on my hot lap," Chris said. "I lifted out a little bit in three. When I did it, I almost kicked myself because I knew the car did not need to have that done. There was a couple of more hundredths in it if I didn't do that which may have changed a position - but it's said and done. We'll go and get them in the race tomorrow."
Despite his lift, Chris is a fan of the Phoenix mile. "It's much more of a driver's track as far as ovals go, since it's much tighter," he explained. "You certainly have to work the car a lot more than you do at a place like Homestead or Texas. Passing here is really tough. Because it's so much smaller there's really only one line you can really run. You have to position yourself and really time the pass right to get it done."
The first non-Schmidt car in the field is Jon Herb, whose speed of 153.853 mph was a little off his practice times, but still good enough for the outside of the second row. "I'm not entirely happy with the run," Jon said after climbing out of the car. "We lost a little bit off the last practice. We were expecting to pick it up. I got so hard on the limiter early in this run that I pulled the other gear, and we weren't able to pull it, so we lost a little bit.
"But we've got a good starting spot. We'll take that and move forward."
The third row was filled by Jay Drake and Jeff Simmons. Drake is a rookie in this series, but is a veteran - and champion - in USAC open wheel racing. He's run at Phoenix before, in the USAC cars, and is enjoying his first run here in the Infiniti Pro Series. "That's the best we've run all day," Jay said of his 153.188 mph qualifying speed, "so we're making gains every time we run. So we'll take it, and we'll go start the race with it, and see how it goes."
Jeff Simmons put his car on the outside of the third row at a speed of 152.599 mph, but is concerned about consistency. "We've been having different problems with the setup," he said, "and things aren't making sense with the data. We make changes, and they're not working out the way they should. We're a little worried about the car. With such a short run in qualifying, I'm not sure if we have those problems solved. It was an OK run, we're mid pack, but we still have some things to work out."
Four separate single car incidents during the day involved drivers making contact with the SAFER barrier. Scott Mayer and P.J. Chesson spun in separate incidents in turn four in the morning session. Both drivers were checked and released from the infield care center. Problems occurred in turn two during the afternoon session as G. J. Mennen and Mishael Abbott made contact with the SAFER barrier.
Abbott suspected mechanical problems were to blame for her incident and several eyewitnesses confirmed that her car had not varied from the racing line before encountering trouble. All four drivers involved in Friday's on track incidents were unable to make repairs prior to qualifying but are expected to make Saturday's race.
Tomorrow's Phoenix 100 takes the green flag at 11:00 am MST. It will be televised, tape delayed, on ESPN2 at 3:00 pm EST on March 24.