Qualifying: Castroneves scores third pole

Helio Castroneves, the narrow leader in the IRL standings, recorded a fastest lap of 226.757mph around California Speedway's two-mile oval to score his third pole position of the season in his Marlboro Team Penske Dallara-Toyota

Qualifying: Castroneves scores third pole

"We're one of the fast guys now," Castroneves said. "There are still four or five guys that still are able to be up there with us. We just have to be cautious now and hopefully everything will go our way."

Castroneves' lap turned out to be a tick better than one recorded late in the session by Kenny Brack. His Team Rahal Dallara-Honda was timed at 226.280mph, marking Honda's late resurgence in its attempt to run down Toyota in the final two races of the season.

"I think we got the most out of it that we had," Brack said. "That was good enough for second. It feels good to put the car on the front row, but I was really hanging it out."

Scott Dixon will start inside the second row after posting a lap of 226.219mph in his Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force-Toyota. Britain's Dan Wheldon was fourth, while Andretti Green Racing team-mate Tony Kanaan was fifth. Vitor Meira, in his return from an injury, was sixth, the highest-qualifying Chevrolet of the session.

But Saturday belonged to Castroneves, now 12 points ahead of Dixon in the series standings with only Sunday's race and the Oct. 12 finale at Texas Motor Speedway remaining.

"Everything is going the way we planned," Castroneves said. "But until you see the checkered flag, you can't count on it."

Dixon said he and his crew might have over-thought their approach to qualifying, which was hampered by a brisk front wind on the backstretch that wasn't in play during the morning practice session.

"The air was a little thinner today, so to pick up a little bit of speed, we messed with the balance a little," Dixon said. "We had a little bit of push, making it hard to keep it down on the track. Generally, though, it was pretty good."

The other three contenders in the points also aren't far behind on the grid in their pursuit of Castroneves. Kanaan, who is 14 points behind, qualified fifth; Gil de Ferran, who is 17 behind, qualified 12th; and Sam Hornish Jr, who is 41 behind, qualified 10th.

"The big thing about this place is getting your car off of two and down the backstraight as fast as you can," Hornish said. "Yesterday in the real windy condition, our car worked as well or better than anybody else's. We were really getting down the straightaways. We're hoping for a lot of wind."

Kanaan, who had struggled in recent races at larger ovals, was pleased with his lap of 225.198mph.

"I didn't want to be 15th like I was in Michigan or 16th like I was in Chicago," Kanaan said. "This is a hard place. It seems like it should be the same as Michigan, but it's a lot harder to pass. You're going to see a close race, but not as close as we saw in Michigan."

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