Qualifying: Ray bounces back with pole

Greg Ray is hoping that grabbing pole position for Saturday night's Harrah's Indy 200 at the Nashville Super Speedway will help ease the frustration he has experienced in the last two Indy Racing League events.

Qualifying: Ray bounces back with pole

Ray took pole on Friday afternoon with a lap at 199.922 mph around the 1.33-mile oval in his Dallara-Oldsmobile Aurora. It was the 13th pole of Ray's IRL career and his fourth this season.

Topping qualifying comes as some welcome success for the 34-year-old, who crashed at Richmond International Raceway at the end of last month and was unable to compete. That was followed by engine problems at the start of the last round at Kansas Speedway which prevented Ray from joining the race until the lap 17. He finished the 14th.

"We haven't capitalised on the pole positions we have had," said Ray. "But we are trying to be a front-runner for Saturday night. Whoever has a good strategy and good pit stops with a good race car will come out on top. You will need the whole package to win here. There are probably 10 cars that can win this race and it will be competitive. It will be the usual suspects."

Ray won the pole on the concrete-surface at Nashville Superspeedway after earlier practice sessions were interrupted twice for rain, delaying the start of time trials.

"Conditions were quite a bit different than they were in practice," he said. "We never got to pull our top gear. We knew the air was thick and that slowed us down. So far, so good. All these cars running up front were making the track grippier. Any time you get the cars out there, it helps the track. The air density was so high, we were not able to get to our top gear because of the drag."

The 200 mph barrier was not broken in qualifying, despite a lap of 201.037 during practice by Sam Hornish Jr., who will start on the outside of the front row after qualifying at 199.750 mph. Ray ran a lap at 200.983 mph in practice and thought he could duplicate that in qualifications.

"We thought we could at least go a high 200 or a low 201 if conditions were right," said the polesitter. "The track lost a little bit of surface grip from that rain, so we learned the hard way. The track lost some grip on the entries and exits."

Although he is only 21, Hornish brings a 60-point lead into Saturday night's race in the battle for the IRL title.

"Sam proved last year that he is a great driver and could do a lot," Ray said. "There is no doubt he is a future superstar. Not only has he won races, but he has lots of seconds and thirds and that helps on the way to the championship."

Hornish's second-place start matches his previous career high from Phoenix earlier this year.

"We've had a super year," Hornish said. "I'm blessed to have this job this year and I'm trying to make the most of it. The big thing we have tried to do this year is when we have a car that is capable of winning, we have. When we didn't, we tried to bring it home. The team has done a great job in the pits and the only time we haven't done well in the pits is when I've screwed up. This track will be a little tough to pass so it will be important in the pits."

Mark Dismore was third at 199.239 miles per hour in his Dallara-Aurora followed by Billy Boat in fourth and Eddie Cheever's Dallara-Infiniti in fifth.

Because of the unique characteristics of the concrete-paved track that is under 1.5-miles in length, some of the typical racing in the IRL may be changed. Ray is expecting a tough race on Saturday night as drivers get to grips with the Nashville oval.

"With a new track being concrete, there is a big question mark," Ray said. "You can draft but you can't run under somebody's nose the way you can at some race tracks. Any time you get three or four cars in front of you, it makes a huge low pressure in front so it sucks you up the straightaway.

"The race will be pretty quick, you'll have to have a good handling car, but because the track is so new, you don't know what to expect. You'll have to have lady luck on your side, and she hasn't been with us much lately."

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