Patrick wins first IRL pole

Sunday, July 3, 2005

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Danica Patrick has another first on her short Indy Racing League resume.

The 23-year-old rookie won her first IRL pole Saturday at Kansas Speedway, becoming the second woman to take the top spot.

Patrick, the first woman to lead a lap at the Indianapolis 500, turned in a quick lap of 214.688 mph on her second try around the 1 1/2-mile tri-oval in qualifying for Sunday's Argent Mortgage Indy 300. Sarah Fisher was the first female pole-sitter, starting first at a race in 2002 in Kentucky.

With two teammates qualifying second and third, Patrick's chances of earning her first IRL victory are even better.

"It's very satisfying," said Patrick, who edged out Rahal Letterman teammate Buddy Rice for the pole. "I'm very proud of how hard this team has worked, how hard I've worked. I'm just proud of the whole situation for this team."

Patrick, making her eighth career start, was fastest in her morning practice session, too. Her pole-winning time drew a big cheer from the capacity crowd waiting for the start of a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race.

Her best previous start was second at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan in April.

"This is not untouched territory," Patrick said. "What's going to make the difference is going out tomorrow and staying up there and competing with my teammates who did such a great job last year."

In May, Patrick finished fourth at the Indianapolis 500, the best finish by a woman in the 89-year history of the race, and her second fourth in the IRL series.

"I know a lot of this started because I'm a chick in a race car," Patrick said. "Now it's turning into, 'Look what this rookie can do."'

Rice, last year's race champion, will start on the outside front after qualifying at 214.65 mph. Vitor Meira was third at 214.548 mph, followed in the top 10 by Tomas Scheckter, Darren Manning, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Scott Sharp and Sam Hornish Jr.

This year's Indy 500 winner and the current points leader, Dan Wheldon, qualified 13th.

"The car has been very slow since we rolled it off the truck, and we really don't know why," said Wheldon, who has won four of seven events this year. "We just don't have an answer for it. Right now, I've got a lot of people in front of me that are going to be difficult to beat."

Helio Castroneves, who won last week at Richmond, Va., qualified 14th.

"We tried a number of things in practice," he said. "We just couldn't find what we needed."

Last year, Rice won the pole and then held off Meira by .0051 seconds to win the second-closest race in IRL history.

It was the first 1-2-3 qualifying by one team since Scheckter, Rice and Eddie Cheever did it at Michigan in 2002 for Eddie Cheever Red Bull Racing.

"We'll just have to see," Rice said. "But all three cars qualified strongly, they've been strong all day, and there's no reason we shouldn't all three be running up front and going for a finish like last year."

Patrick agreed -- to a point.

"That's the plan is that the three of us will hopefully take off and, you know, tow each other out to a country mile lead, and then we don't have to worry about anybody," she said. "In a perfect world, that's what would happen.

"But it's not going to happen like that. There are going to be twists and turns in the race. There'll be yellow flags and fuel strategy and changes within the car as the race goes on. So it's definitely helpful to have friends around, but at the end of the day we're all trying to individually win the race."

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