In The Spotlight

Danica Patrick continued to be the news-maker in the IRL IndyCar Series, qualifying third fastest for Saturday’s Bombardier Learjet 500K at Texas Motor Speedway with a lap of 212.661 mph. It will mark her third consecutive start in the top four, and follows up a pair of fourth-place finishes at Japan and Indianapolis.

“It was OK, and we’ll take the third position for the grid,” Patrick said. “You know, race day is the day that matters. I think the practice on Friday will be beneficial for me to learn to run in traffic here at this track since this is my first race here. I have to get used
to running in high, middle and low grooves.”

Ironically, the two cars qualifying ahead of her — Panther Racing Chevrolet teammates Tomas Scheckter and Tomas Enge — were eliminated
from the Indianapolis 500 two weeks ago in an incident triggered by Patrick.

Scheckter earned his third pole at Texas with a lap of 213.847 mph, while Enge ran a lap of 212.861.

“I have a great car and a great team, and there are going to be no excuses this time,” said Scheckter, who has yet to finish a race this season. “I’m going to try to win every race, no matter where I qualify, no matter what position I’m in. I’ve been training really hard. Everybody has to get back to the mental level of winning again, and that’s what I’m going to do."

Scheckter hopes that Patrick can continue to make headlines for the seasons — which might persuade Chevrolet to change its mind about leaving the series as an engine supplier at the end of the season.

“I think Chevy has been putting in a massive effort, or else I wouldn’t be sitting here,” Scheckter said. “They really want to put a big effort in.”

Buddy Rice made his first IRL appearance since a practice crash that sidelined him from the Indy 500, qualifying seventh.

“The pole is always nice to win, but qualifying here isn’t really that important,” said Rice, who had a problem with his shifter during qualifying. “At tracks like Texas you need a good race setup. We were the fastest by ourselves this afternoon. It feels good to be back in the car, and I feel like we’ll be tough in the race.

Sam Hornish Jr. led the Toyota contingent by qualifying fourth fastest at 212.049 mph. Indy 400 runner-up Vitor Meira starts fifth at 212.041 in a Rahal Letterman Racing Honda, and is joined in the third row by the Andretti Green Racing Honda of Dario Franchitti, 212.034.

Dan Wheldon, who has won four of five 2005 races, will start eighth, running a lap of 211.718 mph for Andretti Green Racing. However, he qualified 16th at Indianapolis, and went on to win to build a commanding lead in the championship.

Saturday’s event takes the green flag at 8:30 p.m. EST, and will be televised live on ESPN.

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IZOD Indy Car Series, 2005

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