IRL: Patrick practice perfect leads to Kentucky pole

Getting a good lap in qualifying trim during practice sessions is becoming a necessity for the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series contenders. If rain is in the forecast - as it was for today in Sparta, Kentucky, home of the 1.5-mile Kentucky ...

Getting a good lap in qualifying trim during practice sessions is becoming a necessity for the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series contenders. If rain is in the forecast - as it was for today in Sparta, Kentucky, home of the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway tri-oval - it's best to be prepared.

After only four drivers made it to the track for single car qualifying for the AMBER Alert Portal Indy 300 rain began to fall and continued for at least half an hour before the IRL scotched time trials.

That left Danica Patrick on pole for the second time in her 12-race IndyCar Series career, after the 23-year-old posted the top practice lap in the second session of 217.516mph, a figure Patrick claims she got without a tow. "I didn't see anyone on the track at that time," she declared.

"A pole is a pole no matter what, but I thought I had a chance to earn it this afternoon. We did not expect this rain at all - I thought that was just a 'blow-over' cloud coming through with the wind shift. I did test here last year; it was my only big oval test so it's nice to know your way around," Patrick acknowledged. She logged the most laps of all 23 drivers in two separate sessions, 107.

She's starting next to 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, who had a very good first practice session, taking the top morning speed of 217.500mph, just 0.16mph slower than Patrick. Wheldon, who's had a difficult time with qualifying all season, has been setting up his car to use the Kentucky Speedway's bumps to his advantage.

"I'm pretty happy to be starting up front," Wheldon professed. "Every time we come back here I feel the bumps a little bit more. Quite frankly I don't think you'll see the same kind of side-by-side racing like in the past because of that. I try to stay away from them; drive around them, but in the race I may have to go over them," Wheldon mused.

"Everybody is trying to trim their cars as much as they can as the season gets toward the end," the point leader delineated. "Around here you've got to stay in clean air to be comfortable so I think we'll be more spread out this year than in the past because of the bumpier surface."

Tomas Scheckter was to start third based on his second practice lap of 217.376mph, but the team elected to change his engine, relegating the South African to the rear of the field per IRL rules. Returning teammate Tomas Enge also changed Chevrolet power mills and will start from the very back of the pack.

Sam Hornish Jr., who won this race in 2003 gets the third-place starting slot after being one of four drivers to qualify. Hornish practiced at 217.307mph in the second session and, after taking his two timed laps at 216.624mph simply noted, "The hotter the track gets, the more slick it is, like we have right now."

Scott Dixon starts fourth with his second practice lap of 217.268mph. The 2003 IRL champion's car was "quick from the start, so we actually didn't work very much on qualifying setup. It might have been run to see where we might have ended up but a fourth place starting position is respectable," Dixon professed.

The reigning IRL titleholder, Tony Kanaan was able to make his qualifying run but is far more pleased to use his first practice lap of 217.089mph than the 215.153mph he ran in time trials. He starts fifth.

Seventh in the combined practice report, Vitor Meira has his best grid slot since qualifying third (again on a practice speed) at Kansas, where qualifying was also rained out. He logged a top lap of 217.036mph in the earlier practice session and will take the green in sixth.

Veteran Scott Sharp holds seventh on the 23-car grid based on his second practice speed of 216.993mph. "We came with a good setup based on last year's results," where team co-owner Adrian Fernandez was the winner. "I feel we would have started a little bit higher if I had the chance to qualify, but I think we have a pretty good package for tomorrow."

Buddy Lazier, the 2000-2001 Kentucky Speedway winner was the first driver to take timed laps and set the benchmark of 217.300mph, better than his afternoon practice lap of 216.922mph. "I think we've got a really fast car so I hope we don't have to line up according to practice times," he said after exiting his car. Lazier reported he was having trouble running the high line around the track. He starts eighth.

Dario Franchitti starts ninth using his morning lap of 216.835mph.

Buddy Rice is hoping to turn around his season from 10th on the grid and Bryan Herta, the final driver to qualify remarked he felt some rain drops on his second lap. The Michigan winner starts 11th. The switch from Toyota to Chevrolet appears to be paying off for A.J. Foyt IV as he has secured 12th on the grid, next to rookie Ryan Briscoe, who starts 13th.

Kosuke Matsuura starts 14th and Helio Castroneves, who never had the chance to do a qualifying simulation starts 15th. Roger Yasukawa holds P16 while Jaques Lazier starts 17th. The Red Bull cars of Alex Barron and Patrick Carpentier, respectively hold 18th and 19th grid slots. Jimmy Kite and Ed Carpenter will move up one spot thanks to Scheckter's and Enge's engine changes.

Similar weather patterns have been predicted for the greater Cincinnati/Louisville area where the rural Kentucky Speedway sits. The League has scheduled this race for a 3:45PM start. It airs live on ABC.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Jaques Lazier  , Jimmy Kite , Adrian Fernandez , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Ryan Briscoe , Kosuke Matsuura , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira