Briscoe grabs pole; 1 second separates field

By Dave Lewandowski

JOLIET, Ill. – The Mario Andretti Road Championship Trophy has been settled, which leaves two titles up for grabs in the final four IZOD IndyCar Series races.

That’s double the motivation for Ryan Briscoe and Dario Franchitti, who will start on the front row for the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300.

Briscoe earned the PEAK Performance Pole Award for the third consecutive year at Chicagoland Speedway with a two-lap average of 216.346 mph (50.5857 seconds) for the 200-lap race under the lights Aug. 28. The Team Penske driver outpaced Scott Dixon by 0.0077 of a second to win in ’09 – the fourth-closest margin of victory in IZOD IndyCar Series history. In fact, five of the top 10 closest finishes have occurred at the 1.5-mile, high-banked oval.
Final practice

Will Power recorded a lap of 218.252 mph to lead the field in the final practice session (post-qualifying.

Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe was second (217.994) and Andretti Autosport’s Danica Patrick (217.749) was third.

Briscoe, who posted his third pole start of the season (all on 1.5-mile tracks), is 14 points behind Dixon in the A.J. Foyt Oval Championship standings. Though there’s a chasm between the fourth-place Briscoe and teammate Will Power, the overall championship points leader, he’s confident of making a move in the final four.

“The car today was just spot on,” said Briscoe, who won from the pole at Texas Motor Speedway in early June. “I didn’t want to be overconfident, but I was thinking after that run, ‘Man, that has to be hard to beat.’ I knew we were fully trimmed out and the car felt really solid.

“It was a great qualifying run and I’m just really hoping that we can follow through tomorrow and have another good race. We’ve been strong here the last couple of years and I really enjoy racing around here. It’s always exciting. It’s a completely wide track that’s really smooth. It really promotes good racing so I always get excited to come back here.”

Franchitti, also seeking to close the championship points gap on Power, recorded his 10th consecutive top-five start with an average of 215.593 mph in the No. 10 Breathe Right car for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Power, entering the race with a 59-point cushion over Franchitti, recorded an average of 215.521 mph and will join Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves (215.475) on the second row.

The 29-car field is separated by one second.

“Qualifying is a like an engineering exercise,” said Franchitti, who won at Chicagoland in 2007. “It’s getting all of those pieces into place. Then, if you miss one of them, or in Ryan’s case if you get them all just right, then you see the result. We’d like to have that extra point (for the pole) but we’re starting up front and I think we have a pretty good car in race trim.

“One of the things we realize about these one-and-half mile races is really that anything can happen. It can just go completely bad at anytime. It would be nice to stay up front all night, but we’re prepared for almost anything.”

Initially, Franchitti will be missing his wingmate. Dixon, who has finished second at this oval the past four years in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, will start a season-low 15th (214.269 mph). That ended his series-record streak of 45 consecutive top-10 starts.

Dixon is the A.J. Foyt Oval Championship leader by four over Franchitti.

“Hopefully, he’ll be up there to help me out or I’ll feel like I’m being ganged up on,” Franchitti said.

Power notched his 12th top-five start of the season, though the third starting position ended his streak of six consecutive races starting from the front row.

“Our car is fast in race trim and this track is all about the racing,” Power said. “I am looking forward to tomorrow night. We have been knocking on the door on some of the earlier oval races and we are due for our first oval win.”

So is Marco Andretti, who will start fifth (215.321 mph) in the No. 26 Team Venom Energy entry for Andretti Autosport. Graham Rahal starts a season-high sixth in the No. 02 Quick Trim car (215.314) for Newman/Haas Racing. Dan Wheldon recovered from the incident at Infineon Raceway earlier in the week for a season-best seventh starting position (215.099). He’ll join him Hideki Mutoh, driver of the No. 06 Formula Dream/Panasonic car for Newman/Haas Racing (215.055) on Row 4.

“I think the team has done a really, really good job,” said Wheldon, who won at Chicagoland in 2004 and ‘05. “We didn’t run as much as we perhaps we would have liked in the practice session, but the National Guard Panther Racing team worked hard and we had a good, solid qualification run. Tomorrow we just want to drive to the front of the field as quick as we can and stay there.”

Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay (214.979) and Takuma Sato (214.945) of KV Racing Technology will be on the fifth row. Ed Carpenter, competing in his second race for Panther Racing/Vision Racing, will start 11th (214.831).

Danica Patrick (214.750) was the highest qualifier of the record-tying five females in the field (12th in the No. 7 car for Andretti Autosport).

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