IRL: Scheckter's perfect practice nabs Nashville pole

It was bound to happen. Rainstorms have been swirling through this central Tennessee location throughout the past day as the remnants of Hurricane Dennis refused to leave the American Midwest. The Indy cars were late getting practice started ...

It was bound to happen. Rainstorms have been swirling through this central Tennessee location throughout the past day as the remnants of Hurricane Dennis refused to leave the American Midwest.

The Indy cars were late getting practice started after storms inundated the 1.33-mile Nashville Superspeedway overnight and into the morning.

Once preparations for the fifth annual Firestone Indy 200 began in earnest, it became apparent the power pendulum was swinging in the direction of Chevrolet on this track.

When persistent rain put paid to any thought of holding qualifying, times from the two test sessions became the grid for Saturday night's race.

Tomas Scheckter led all drivers in practice this afternoon, the Texas winner putting down a lap of 203.117mph in the first session with his Chevy- powered Dallara. Scheckter turned a total of 59 laps in that session with his 53rd quickest of all. He secured his eighth career IndyCar Series pole position and third this season.

Still, Scheckter admitted that until today he "didn't particularly like this place. It's a funny sort of track. I like circuits with a lot of grip," something the bumpy Nashville oval lacks. Tomas thinks the keys to victory in this race will be pit stops. "It's not easy to get by people at this place so in- and out-laps and pit stops, particularly the final pit stop will be very important."

Only one driver came close to the South African's speed in the second practice. That was rookie Danica Patrick, throwing the gauntlet in practice 2 with a tour of 203.088mph in her Honda-powered Panoz on her 32nd of 35 total laps, just 0.0957 seconds in arrears.

The Argent Mortgage Indy 300 polesitter two weeks ago in Kansas had been third in the first practice and acknowledged the set-ups of her two teammates, Buddy Rice and Vitor Meira (who owned last year's front row) helped her a lot. "I would have liked to qualify because I thought we had the car to sit on pole," Patrick declared.

"We've proven we can start up front and go backwards but we're hoping to change that tomorrow," she sniped at herself. "I think it's going to be fairly difficult to pass here so it's very important to be starting up front. The final practice tonight is a big deal - I'm pretty nervous about that," Patrick noted of the pack mentality that sets in with full-tank running.

Buddy Lazier made an auspicious return to IndyCar Series competition this afternoon, taking second place in the first practice with his lap of 202.927mph, good for third overall and third on the 23-car starting grid. "It really feels good; just the pace surprised me a little," Lazier admitted. "These cars are so good on this racetrack and the track is in really good shape. For me, it's just trying to get into the rhythm of a short event."

Panther Racing announced this afternoon that Lazier will take part in at least three additional races with the team, backed by Pennzoil, American Sentry Guard and Jonathan Byrd's Cafeterias. In addition to his already announced race at Michigan Speedway in two weeks, Lazier will contest the rounds at Kentucky Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway. He indicated he'd also like to show his skills at one of the two road courses still on the docket: Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

Local resident Dario Franchitti lines up fourth after running fourth and second respectively in the brace of test sessions. It was his 16th of 21 total second practice laps at 202.892mph that did the trick. Teammate Dan Wheldon, the current point leader starts fifth after posting a practice 2 speed of 202.602mph on his 25th of 26 laps on the concrete oval.

Vitor Meira was fifth quickest in the first practice session and his speed of 202.561mph stood for sixth on the grid. "That is okay to start sixth; we can move from there," the Brazilian stated. "It is hard to pass here but I am confident we can pick up some spots in the pits."

Last year's Nashville winner and IRL champion Tony Kanaan lines up seventh after his 12th of 21 laps yielded a speed of 202.515mph. Veteran Scott Sharp holds eighth grid slot after posting his second practice speed of 202.511mph on his 37th of 38 laps.

Two of three Target Ganassi drivers share the fifth row. Darren Manning's practice 2 speed of 202.491mph nipped rookie teammate's same session lap of 202.489mph; the Australian turned the second highest number of laps preparing for tomorrow night's race, 103 total between both practice sessions.

Tomas Enge improved greatly from the first to second practice sessions and will start 11th. He was 17th in his first session on the Nashville concrete. Scott Dixon, the 2003 IRL champ starts 12th after turning the highest number of laps (107) over the afternoon.

Sam Hornish Jr. was disappointed to take 13th as was Buddy Rice in 14th, who had a good first session but was unable to improve in the second practice. Rice "didn't get much luck today" after doing full-tank running in the second session. Helio Castroneves stood on his first practice speed to take 15th while Bryan Herta lines up 16th.

In his first trip to the Nashville Superspeedway, Patrick Carpentier practiced 17th and was quicker in the first of two sessions, feeling that he and the team were "making progress to eliminate scrub in the car to go faster." The spot next to him on row 9 belongs to Kosuke Matsuura who improved his Panoz/Honda in the second go-round.

Alex Barron, the 2002 winner here in Nashville starts 19th in the sister car to Carpentier's. A.J. Foyt IV holds the 20th starting slot. Roger Yasukawa lines up 21st, Ed Carpenter holds 22nd place while Jimmy Kite brings up the rear of the grid in 23rd.

The warm-up session scheduled for later this evening looks like it, too, will be cancelled as rain continues to fall. Most teams had hoped to find out how their cars work in traffic during the half-hour practice.

The fifth annual Firestone Indy 200, a 200-lap dash around the Nashville Superspeedway is set to take the green flags shortly after 7PM EDT, weather permitting, and airs live on ESPN.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Tomas Enge , Darren Manning , Buddy Lazier , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Jimmy Kite , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Buddy Rice , Kosuke Matsuura , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Ed Carpenter , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing