|Helio Castroneves with the Firestone Firehawk mascot|
Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves reaffirmed his place as a contender for the 2008 IndyCar Series championship by winning the pole position Friday night for the Firestone Indy 200 at Nashville Superspeedway. Castroneves and his No. 3 Team Penske Honda/Dallara recorded a four-lap average of 204.519 mph to win the pole, marking his 24th in the IndyCar Series and his first-ever on the 1.33-mile concrete oval.
“What a great four laps,” Castroneves declared after securing the No. 1 starting position for Saturday night’s event. “I’m excited to be on the pole, especially after what happened last week in Watkins Glen. What a way to make it happen. I’m extremely happy for the team. They’ve been working 24/7, and they are so awesome. I’m proud to have these guys on my side.”
It's Castroneves' 24th earned pole (last at Belle Isle in 2007), and extends his IndyCar Series record to eight consecutive years with a pole.
Castroneves, who is 48 points arrears of Scott Dixon through 10 rounds, has a best finish of third at Nashville. He started 18th and 26 in his past two races.
Patrick, driving the No. 7 Motorola car for Andretti Green Racing, had an average of 203.335 mph (1:32.0649) - improving her time each of the four laps. She also qualified second in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and this is the ninth front-row start of her career.
Both drivers are seeking the hand-painted Gibson guitar trophy presented to the race winner.
Teammate Hideki Mutoh will start a season-high third (203.316; 1:32.0735) in the No. 27 Formula Dream car. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who scored his first IndyCar Series victory five days earlier at Watkins Glen International, was sitting P2 on the grid through three laps. The final-lap fade (203.093 mph) put him fourth (203.306; 1:32.0778), still his best start on an oval.
Dixon, who has won on the concrete oval the past two years, will start from the inside of Row 3 (203.233; 1:32.1111) in the No. 9 Energizer car. He'll be joined by Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dan Wheldon (203.077).
Tony Kanaan (202.735) in the No. 11 7-Eleven car and Ed Carpenter (202.735), driving the No. 20 Menards/Vision Racing car, will share Row 4.
"We could have gone a little bit faster," said Kanaan, who won the last oval race at Richmond two weeks ago. "The car was really loose coming off of Turn 4 so we may have been a bit too aggressive on the setup. We were at a bit of a disadvantage because we were the first car out in qualifying. That's the draw you get so you can't complain. I was so lucky at Richmond to be one of the last guys, so what goes around comes around. I would have liked to have been on the pole today since it is 7-Eleven's 81st birthday but maybe they'll settle for a win."
Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe (202.690) and Graham Rahal (202.561) in the No. 06 Hole in the Wall Camps car for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing jumped into the top 10. Second (Patrick) through 10th on the grid are separated by a four-tenths of a second.
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, qualified first): “I’m excited to be on pole, especially after what happened last week in Watkins Glen. The Team Penske guys worked really hard to make sure everything was in great condition, and wow, what a great four laps. I still like the old qualifying, but what a way to make it happen. I’m extremely happy for the team. They’ve been working 24/7, and they are so awesome. I’m proud to have those guys in the group. I’m just so happy with the way it’s going.”
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola, second): “The car was stuck and it was pretty easy, which is what happens when you are starting up front. What can I say. We weren’t going to do a 204.5. It is good to start up front here. There are plenty of spots behind me. I don’t think it’s going to be two-wide. It will be for the first couple of laps. You may see people use the outside on restarts after they sweep the high lane, but it will be very hard to pass. I will need to get a good jump.”
HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 27 Formula Dream, third): “It is great to start from the front. If I have a good start, I should be able to stay in the front group and hopefully finish in a good position. I've been able to do pretty well in the night races, so I am looking forward to tomorrow. My engineer and I will go over the past races to see what we can do to improve the Formula Dream car for tomorrow.”
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol, fourth): “We changed some things during the practice sessions today, and to be honest some of them didn't make perfect sense at the time, but they sure worked once we got on the track. Hopefully, we'll do like we did last week and keep making the car better and better. The track is a little bumpy. I hope we have a second groove tomorrow for the fans, or else it could be a little processional. This is a very important qualifying track, and this is a great start for ethanol and Rahal Letterman Racing, and I think we're going to be in good shape for tomorrow night.”
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Energizer, fifth): “Obviously the draw hurt us a bit going out second, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. We would have liked to have gotten the Energizer car closer to the top of the grid, but we should be fine for the race.”
DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, sixth): “I think the car was average, but we weren’t able to trim out as much as Helio for qualifying. The conditions changed quite a bit over the course of the session, which hurt us because we went out fifth out of 24 cars. We made a lot of changes from the first session to the second today, which definitely got us pointed in the right direction.”
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, seventh): “We could have gone a little bit faster. The car was really loose coming off of Turn 4 so we may have been a bit too aggressive on the setup. We were at a bit of a disadvantage because we were the first car out in qualifying. That’s the draw you get so you can’t complain. I was so lucky at Richmond to be one of the last guys, so what goes around comes around. I would have liked to have been on the pole today since it is 7-Eleven’s 81st birthday, but maybe they’ll settle for a win tomorrow.”
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Menards/Vision Racing, eighth): “Our qualifying effort wasn't half bad. It was pretty much where we expected to be as we were running in the top 10 on the speed charts in every practice. We were hoping to qualify fairly well. My last two laps were a lot better than my first two laps. I'd have liked to have gotten a better start to the qualifying laps to finish even higher on the charts, but either way it's the best start we've had here at Nashville, so we're looking forward to a good race here on Saturday night for the No. 20 Menards car and the Vision Team.”
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, ninth): “It's been a rather tough day for the No. 6 Team Penske crew. We battled some mechanical problems this morning, which really limited our track time. But, the guys worked really hard to fix the car so that we could get some practice this afternoon and make a qualifying run. We thought that we had a good qualifying setup, but the car got sideways on me going into the first lap. As a result, we started off a little slow, but battled back to put in an OK run. I think we could have done better, but considering the circumstances, we'll take it and hope for the best tomorrow. Congrats to Helio on his first pole of the season. This makes two in a row for Team Penske.”
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 06 Hole in the Wall Camps, 10th): “I’m pretty happy with the run, and I think we all are. We didn’t know what to expect or where we would end up. We struggled a little bit towards the end of the last session, but the guys did a great job putting a good car on the track for qualifying. I could tell right out of the pits, and it gave me a lot of confidence. It’s an interesting track that brings a lot of challenges. We’re not used to concrete, so that is the biggest one. It’s very bumpy, but at the end of the day we are all fighting the same thing, and we’ll do the best that we can.”
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