NASHVILLE, Tenn., Friday, July 20, 2001 -- The home of country music was rocked today by a brand-new beat as Greg Ray and Oldsmobile won the pole for the first Indy Racing event in Tennessee. Ray drove Team Menard's Oldsmobile Dallara to a 199.922...
NASHVILLE, Tenn., Friday, July 20, 2001 -- The home of country music was rocked today by a brand-new beat as Greg Ray and Oldsmobile won the pole for the first Indy Racing event in Tennessee. Ray drove Team Menard's Oldsmobile Dallara to a 199.922 mph lap around the 1.33-mile Nashville Superspeedway concrete oval to earn the No. 1 starting position for the inaugural Harrah's Indy 200 on Saturday night. Ray won the pole for the fourth time this season and the 13th time in his career. He extended Oldsmobile's pole streak to 47 consecutive Indy Racing Northern Light Series events.
A brief rain shower scrubbed the track and raised the humidity just before the start of qualifying. The heavy air prevented Ray from duplicating his 200 mph practice speed. Sam Hornish Jr. had posted a speed over 201 mph in the final practice session, but turned a fast lap of 199.750 mph in qualifying with Panther Racing's Oldsmobile Dallara to claim the outside front row starting spot.
"We actually thought we'd go a bit quicker," Ray reported. "The track surface didn't have as much grip and the air density went up quite a bit after the rain. We were geared to go 202, but never got to top gear. That was as quick as it would go. It all comes down to conditions."
"We're getting in the habit of coming in second," laughed Hornish, who has finished as runner-up in the last three races. "We qualified second in Phoenix and won there so we're not in bad shape. I'd always like to be a little bit faster though.
"This is really a handling track;" said the 22-year-old points leader. "Whoever has the best handling car and makes the best pit stops will be the one to beat."
Oldsmobile engines powered the four fastest drivers and 19 of the 21 qualifiers. Mark Dismore will start on the inside of the second row with Kelley Racing's Oldsmobile Dallara after qualifying at 199.239 mph. Billy Boat sailed to the fourth fastest qualifying speed at 199.175 mph in the Curb/Agajanian Motorsports Oldsmobile Dallara.
"When the weather changed it became who had the best car for the conditions," said Dismore. "It will be hard to pass in the race, so the draft will play a role. You have to get under a guy's tail coming off the corner, get a good tow and get around him on the straight."
Boat continued to impress in the Curb Records Oldsmobile-powered entry. "We didn't have quite enough speed for the pole but we have a good race car," he said. "Track position will be key here, so we're happy to have the car near the front of the field. It's tough to pass in the corners."
Defending IRL champion Buddy Lazier qualified Hemelgarn Racing's Oldsmobile Dallara sixth on the grid despite feeling under the weather. "I caught a little cold from my wife, but it's not affecting my performance," explained Lazier, who trails Hornish in the championship race by 60 points. "We had a great day today, but when you have a fast race car and you don't start on the pole, you always feel you let something slip through your fingers."
The fresh concrete track surface has yet to yield a second groove, making the prospect of passing in tomorrow's 200-lap race difficult. "The groove has quite a bit of grip, but above the groove the track doesn't have a lot of grip," Ray explained. "With time the track will mature, but not by Saturday night. It's 50 percent handling and 50 percent horsepower."
Lazier echoed Ray's sentiments: "In the first portion of the race, you're going to want to be very particular about where you go on the race track. I think we'll be moving up on the track inch by inch. It's going to be very challenging."
The Harrah's Indy 200 will start at 7 p.m. CDT on Saturday night, July 21. The 200-lap, 266-mile race will be televised live on ESPN at 8 p.m. EDT and broadcast live on the Indy Racing Radio Network.