Penske Sets Richmond Front Row

RICHMOND, Va. - Sam Hornish Jr. ran a sizzling lap of 15.3197 seconds, 176.244 mph, to capture the MBNA Pole and give Marlboro Team Penske the front row for Saturday night’s SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Speedway.

Moments earlier, teammate Helio Castroneves shattered his own track record with a lap of 15.3586 seconds (175.797 mph), but lost his bid for his first pole of the year.

“I knew I was going to be close, but I thought I was going to have something for Helio,” Hornish said. “We tried a different gear from what we had in practice, and it worked out well for us.

“The car was handling real good in the first practice, where we concentrated on our race setup,” added Hornish, who was also fastest in the opening session. “The car was really consistent and handled good over the long run, so I’m real excited about tomorrow’s race.”

It was Hornish’s second pole of the season and fifth of his IndyCar Series career, with the top 12 qualifiers braking Castroneves’ year-old track record.

“We’ve been running so much here, so the front row paid off for us,” said Castroneves, who set the fastest practice time of the day in the second session. “But the competition is getting harder and harder, so hopefully, we’ll be in good shape. Tomorrow is the more important day.”

In a surprising second row made up of first-year IRL drivers, Target Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Ryan Briscoe will be joined by Red Bull Cheever Racing’s Patrick Carpentier.

“My car’s working real well so far, but we can still improve it,” said Briscoe, who qualified at 174.656.mph. “That will be a good starting position for me – the best I’ve had this year – and our pace has been good. I just hope to stay up there at the end.”

“This is my first short track race, unless you count the time I spent racing speed-skating when I was young,” said Carpentier, who ran a lap of 173.776 mph. “It’s amazing. I think the race is going to be very exciting. Things come at us at an amazing rate of speed. It’s going to be a fun, exciting race. If I can stay up near the front, it will be fantastic. So far this year, we haven’t had a very good season. So to do this year, there’s lights at the end of the tunnel.”

Andretti Green Racing’s Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta will make up the third row, followed by teammate Dan Whelson, the defending SunTrust Indy Challenge winner, who will start seventh.

“We’re still a little bit behind because of the Toyotas, because of the engine manufacturer’s test they had here,” said Wheldon, winner of four 2005 races, including the Indianapolis 500. “We’re working towards catching them slowly, and it’s just taking time. The car felt pretty good in qualifying. I was surprised by the speed, although I thought it would be quicker.

“I think we can win here again,” Wheldon added. “There are so many elements to make this race. It’s one of those races. A guy might not necessarily have the quickest car, but if it’s consistent over a full tank of fuel, he’s going to be very, very good. We’ll have to wait and see.”

The fourth Andretti Green Racing driver, defending IRL IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan, tagged the wall on his final warmup lap prior to qualifying and will start 22nd, joining rookie Danica Patrick in the 11th row.

“I didn’t know what to expect today,” said Patrick, on track at Richmond for the first time Friday. “We’re all struggling on the team and we’re all frustrated with the cars. We just can’t seem to get them to go fast. I went in qualifying and went faster than I did all day, so that’s always a good thing.”

Saturday’s schedule includes final USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown practice at 2:45 p.m., followed by the Richmond Times-Dispatch 100 at 5:45 p.m. The 250-lap SunTrust Indy Challenge takes the green flag at 7:45 p.m., and will be televised live on ESPN.

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