Penske Sweeps Nazareth
August 28, 2004 | 9:15 A.M. EST
Roger Penske is taking the convergence of bittersweet events in stride. But a victory by one of his drivers in the Firestone Indy 225 on Aug. 29 would be an appropriate ending to the facility he resurrected in 1986.
His tandem of Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. will start on the front row Aug. 29 in the Firestone Indy 225 at the quirky one-mile tri-oval. Castroneves, driving the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, won the MBNA Pole Award with a lap of 167.396 mph. Hornish, the next qualifier in line, put the No. 6 car on the front row with a lap of 167.100 mph.
The team had not occupied the front row since the 2002 season at Richmond International Raceway when Gil de Ferran won the pole. But neither he nor Castroneves were able to wrap up that victory (de Ferran was runner-up to Panther Racing’s Hornish). Who wants to lead the first lap? Only the checkered flag matters.
“I want to lead the last lap,” said Castroneves, who posted his second pole position and is seeking his first victory of the season. “The pole is great. I’m extremely happy for the whole team, especially being on the front row right in the back yard of Team Penske.”
“I want to win every race I go to, but this one would mean a little bit more,” said Hornish, who was runner-up to Castroneves in the Firestone Indy 225 last year while with Panther Racing.
Penske Motorsports Inc.—based in nearby Reading, Pa. – purchased the facility out of bankruptcy court, paved the dirt track and renovated the 90 acres in the Lehigh Valley town. The inaugural race at the Pennsylvania International Raceway was won by Michael Andretti on Sept. 20, 1987.
The name was changed to Nazareth Speedway in 1993. In 1999, Nazareth Speedway merged with International Speedway Corporation, which this spring announced plans to shutter the facility at the end of this racing season.
“We’re real happy with the way the car ran,” Hornish said. “Obviously, we’d like to beat Helio, but that’s what teammates are for. It’s great for the (crews). They’ve been working so hard this year. We’ve come to a track that's so close to Reading, and they’ll have a lot of their family out here tomorrow. I’d like to have a good run for them.
“I think this track is going to suit us pretty well. We probably left a little bit out there on the track, but we’ll try and do a little better tomorrow.”
So will the 20 other competitors. IRL IndyCar Series points leader Tony Kanaan (166.591 mph) and Andretti Green Racing teammate Dario Franchitti (165.684) will start on Row 2. Between them, they have won all three races on one-mile ovals this season.
“I’m a bit disappointed in my qualifying run, but I think the ArcaEx car will be a decent race car,” said Franchitti, who won last week at the one-mile Pikes Peak International Raceway tri-oval. “I just had too much understeer. My teammates had that too and we just didn’t make quite enough of a change to get the perfect car. We’re pretty good in race trim and I’ll try to get the ArcaEx car up front and we’ll see what happens. It’s so tight here at Nazareth and anything can happen.”
Last year, Castroneves led the final 173 laps and nipped Hornish by 0.1697 of a second at the finish line.