First Pole For Rice

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Buddy Rice made his first qualifying run as a Honda driver in the Indy Racing League count, placing his Pioneer/Argent machine on the pole for Sunday's 2004 season-opening IndyCar Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Rice, who is filling in for the injured Kenny Brack, posted a fast lap of 217.388 mph on the reconfigured 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval.

It is the first IndyCar pole for former Atlantic series champion Rice, and also the first for Team Rahal since the team joined the IRL in 2003. It is Honda’s fourth IndyCar pole, with Tony Kanaan starting from the pole on three occasions last year.

"I couldn't ask for anything more, the whole team’s done an excellent job preparing for the start of this season," said Rice. "Going into qualifying, we were pretty confident of running at least in the top five, but I didn’t know we would post a big a number [speed] as we did in the end. It’s an excellent way to start the season for myself and all of Team Rahal."

Joining Rice on the front row for the Feb. 29 Toyota Indy 300 will be Alex Barron, driving the No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. His best lap was 216.904 mph. The pole speed was 14 mph faster than Tony Kanaan's pole-winning speed last year.

"The track was 45 degrees hotter when we qualified than it was in this morning's session, so we were surprised with the speed," said Barron, who was nipped for the pole by.484 mph by Rice. "Usually you slow down when the track gets hotter."

In the second row will be Tomas Scheckter (216.678 mph), who drove the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, and Dario Franchitti (216.599) in the No. 27 Arca/Ex Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Andretti Green Racing.

It is the second-closest qualifying field (5.1 seconds) in IndyCar Series history.

Sunday's Toyota Indy 300 starts at 2 p.m.(EST) and will be broadcast live on ESPN and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network.

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