Rookie Meira returns Menard to MBNA pole at Texas. FORT WORTH, Texas, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2002 -- Vitor Meira became the second rookie to win an MBNA Pole this season in the Indy Racing League, capturing the top spot Sept. 14 as the last driver...
Rookie Meira returns Menard to MBNA pole at Texas.
FORT WORTH, Texas, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2002 -- Vitor Meira became the second rookie to win an MBNA Pole this season in the Indy Racing League, capturing the top spot Sept. 14 as the last driver on the track during qualifying for the Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Meira only needed the first of two allowed laps to win the pole, turning a circuit of 23.6378 seconds, 221.594 mph in the No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville/Pittsburgh Paints Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. It was Meira's first career Indy Racing League pole, and it came in his fourth IRL start. Rookie Tomas Scheckter has won three poles this season.
The pole also was the first for IRL pole kings Team Menard since September 2001, when Jaques Lazier earned the top spot for the inaugural Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Team Menard now has 24 career IRL poles, far ahead of second place A.J. Foyt Enterprises with nine.
"That was quick," Meira said. "The guys with the Johns Manville/Menards car, they just did a great job. They are already a month working without stopping, no weekends, no days off, and that pays off.
"I'm really proud to be in this position for me, but most for them. They work like I've never seen. I just have to thank for the opportunity to be with them. I'm very, very happy."
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. will start on the front row for the first time in his IRL career, qualifying second at 23.6987, 221.025 in the No. 7 Corteco/Bryant Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.
"Qualifying was great," Unser said. "It's going to be a long race tomorrow, and it's going to be awfully close like it always is here at Texas, so the thing to do is make it to the end. Hopefully we can be part of the lead group at the end, and we'll see what happens."
The season-ending Chevy 500 starts at 3 p.m. (EDT) Sunday and will be televised live on ABC.
A tight season-long race for the IRL championship will be decided in the 200-lap, 300-mile race Sunday. Defending series and event champion Sam Hornish Jr. leads second place Helio Castroneves by just 12 points, 481-469.
Hornish qualified third at 23.7165, 220.859 in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, his best showing of a weekend in which he has suffered an engine fire and an on-track brush with Max Papis.
"A little bit of a disappointment, but we still ran faster than we thought we were going to," Hornish said. "We were trying to make a decision between fifth and sixth gear. They pretty much leave it up to me. I didn't think I had enough to pull it, but the Chevrolet engine surprised me, and we had a little bit more speed than what I needed. I needed to shift to sixth, so that hurt us a little bit, but the Pennzoil Panther team has worked real hard this year.
"They've really positioned us here at the last race. It's going to be a long race tomorrow. We'll have to wait and see what happens. It should be very exciting. Hopefully the (No.) 3 car (Castroneves), I won't have to see him too much, but I imagine I will be seeing him."
Castroneves will start 10th after a top qualifying lap of 23.9429, 218.770 in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. It's his second-straight double-digit start, but Castroneves finished fourth after starting 21st on Sept. 8 at Chicagoland.
"I'm a little disappointed with our qualifying run this afternoon," Castroneves said. "Unfortunately, fifth gear was a little too tall, but at least we were able to put the Marlboro Team Penske car in the top 10.
"I think we should be OK for tomorrow. It's not quite where I wanted to start, but at this track it shouldn't be a problem. Now we have to focus and work hard for the race. We just need to make sure we're there, especially on the last lap."
Red Bull Cheever Racing teammates Buddy Rice and Eddie Cheever Jr. rounded out the top five in qualifying.
Rookie Rice qualified fourth at 23.7241, 220.788 in the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, while 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Cheever was fifth at 23.7523, 220.526 in the No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.