Andretti comes home to lead Brickyard opening practice

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Aug. 1, 2003 -- John Andretti, who grew up just a few miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, came home to lead the first day of practice for the Brickyard 400 with a lap of 182.708 mph. This is Andretti's first race in...

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Aug. 1, 2003 -- John Andretti, who grew up just a few miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, came home to lead the first day of practice for the Brickyard 400 with a lap of 182.708 mph.

This is Andretti's first race in the No. 81 Kraft 100th Anniversary Chevrolet fielded by the powerful Dale Earnhardt Inc. team. Andretti drove for Petty Enterprises from 1998 until this June, when he was released. Andretti tested with the DEI team at Indianapolis last month after his release from the Petty team.

"It's because it's the Brickyard 400, and all that not because of any other circumstances," Andretti said when asked about the importance of this weekend on his career. "I have a great opportunity with the race team I'm driving for, and I had a really good opportunity the last couple of weeks. I'm not going to lay any pressure on me that will make it any more difficult.

"One race doesn't tell you where I stand, but if we keep coming out and running fast, it's only going to help us."

Pole qualifying is scheduled to start at 10:05 a.m. (EST) Saturday on the 2.5-mile oval. The race starts at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson was second fastest in today's practice at 182.645 in the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet.

But surprises filled the next two spots, as Joe Nemechek was third at 181.389 in the No. 25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet, and Dave Blaney was fourth at 181.148 in the No. 77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford.

"Hopefully I'm the guy that's the sleeper out there this week," Nemechek said. "We're quick right now. We've got awesome power. To run that in the heat of the day, I think you're going to see some speeds tomorrow that are going to be phenomenal."

Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip rounded out the top five at 181.105 in the No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet.

Winston Cup points leader Matt Kenseth was seventh at 181.036 in the No. 17 Smirnoff Ice Triple Black/DeWalt Ford, while defending Winston Cup champion and Indiana native Tony Stewart was ninth at 180.930 in the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet at his home track.

It was not the greatest day for past Brickyard 400 champions.

2000 Brickyard champion Bobby Labonte was the fastest former winner, 11th at 180.527 in the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet. Defending winner Bill Elliott was 19th at 179.766 in the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge.

Three-time winner Jeff Gordon was 33rd at 178.267 in the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet. Only three drivers have won four races at Indianapolis -- four-time Indianapolis 500 winners A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser.

"You know, I keep saying, do not compare me to those guys," Gordon said. "Don't compare the Brickyard 400 to the Indy 500, either. I just do not think they are in the same category.

"Yeah, we are at the same racetrack, but we are talking about totally different history and totally different types of race cars. You know, I do not care what I ever do here, I do not think I will ever be able to compare myself to those guys."

Two-time Brickyard winner Dale Jarrett was 34th at 178.257 in the No. 88 UPS Ford, while 1997 Brickyard winner Ricky Rudd was 45th at 177.350 in the No. 21 Rent-A-Center/Motorcraft/USAF Ford.

Practice continued for the True Value IROC drivers in anticipation for that series' season-ending IROC at Indy at 1 p.m. (EST) Saturday. Points leader Kurt Busch, second place Mike Bliss and third place Mark Martin are eligible to win the season title for racing's "all-star game" that pits 12 drivers from different series in identically prepared stock cars.

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Tickets: Reserved-seat Race Day tickets for the Brickyard 400 remain available. Tickets for the IROC at Indy race also are available. Tickets and parking can be purchased on the World Wide Web via www.imstix.com or by calling the IMS Ticket Office at (800) 822-INDY or (317) 492-6700.

-ims-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , John Andretti , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Joe Nemechek , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Rick Mears , Mike Bliss , Dave Blaney , A.J. Foyt , Mark Martin , Al Unser