Qual: Rice takes pole

Buddy Rice won pole position on Saturday for the Belterra Casino Indy 300 race at Kentucky Speedway, narrowly edging Tony Kanaan, who Rice is chasing for the Indy Racing League championship.

Qual: Rice takes pole

Both drivers insisted on Saturday that their competition this season, while at times terse, isn't bitter. Kanaan has won three races and one pole in 2004, while Rice has won three races and five poles. Kanaan holds a 57-point lead in the standings with six races remaining, but on Saturday his No. 11 Andretti Green Racing Honda-powered Dallara came up 0.0326 seconds short of Rice's lap of 24.6648 seconds - 216.016 mph - in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Racing Honda/Panoz G Force.

Afterward, the two racers smiled, shook hands and played down talk that the points battle had become personal.

"It is a battle, because we're both going for the same thing," Rice said. "But it's not one that's super-heated. There aren't going to be fist fights afterward. What some people want is a big soap opera. I don't think you'll see that. There's no need for it."

Instead, the drivers said, their friendly rivalry is helping them both excel. Kanaan has finished in the top five in nine consecutive races. Since his win at the Indianapolis 500, Rice has finished out of the top six only once.

"It's healthy and it's good," Kanaan said. "I'm pushing him to the limit, and he's pushing me to the limit. That's the way racing is supposed to be. ... I don't see a problem at all."

The tenseness began when Kanaan criticised Rice's driving after a race in June at Texas, noting at the time his comments might be misconstrued. The uneasiness continued after several tight racing situations in ensuing races, including an incident at Nashville in which Rice and Kanaan's team-mate, Dan Wheldon, hooked wheels, rubbed together and nearly crashed.

After the last race at Michigan earlier this month, Kanaan criticised his team's call to let Rice pass him late in the race. When Rice won, Kanaan simmered.

"Certain people have tried to put words in other people's mouths to try to entice it or make some kind of drama scene out of the situation that doesn't need to happen," Rice said. "It's not right."

While Rice and Kanaan battled for the pole on Saturday, Sam Hornish Jr. posted the third-fastest lap - and best by a Toyota-powered car - at 215.592 mph in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Toyota/Dallara. Adrian Fernandez was fourth-best, followed by fellow Honda driver Dario Franchitti.

Helio Castroneves, Vitor Meira, Darren Manning and Scott Dixon round out the top 10. Tomas Scheckter, at 13th in the 22-car field, had the fastest lap by a Chevrolet, more than three-tenths behind Rice's pole-winning lap.

Bryan Herta and Townsend Bell changed engines after Saturday's practice sessions, which disqualified them from time trials. They'll start 21st and 22nd, respectively, for Sunday's race.

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