Ray still the man to beat

In what may eventually be one of the most wide-open Indianapolis 500s in years, the run for the pole looks like it could be a one-man show

Ray still the man to beat

Greg Ray has reinforced his position as the favorite for the Indy 500 pole after posting the fastest speed for four out of the last six days of practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and did it again on Friday when he ran a lap at 225.403mph in the heat of the day.

While most drivers have to wait until the final hour of practice to turn the fast lap of the day when conditions are cooler, Ray has been able to put up the numbers when the track is very hot.

"I was really very pleased with the car," Ray said. "We were in go-fast mode. That is where we thought we could leave it. If the weather conditions come to us in that set-up, we can be a little quicker."

About the only thing Ray's Team Menard crew has done wrong this week is designate which car was the primary and which was the backup. Ray has been able to get all of his speed out of the T-car, while the team has struggled with the primary car, getting a best lap of 219.251 mph.

We threw everything but the kitchen sink at that car," Ray said. "We thought it would be the ticket to ride, but it's not. The balance of the car isn't right at this track so we are going back to the practice setup on the T-car. All of our cars are the same. There is nothing more special to one than the other."

Ironically, the fastest speed of the month was not turned in by Ray, but Scott Sharp. He ran a lap at 226.137 mph on Wednesday, but admitted to getting a huge tow from another car.

NASCAR ace Tony Stewart had the second-fastest speed of the month at 225.004 mph, also on Wednesday. Sharp's teammate, Mark Dismore has the third quickest speed at from Tuesday and Ray is fourth at 224.542 mph on Thursday. But during Friday's full day of practice, no one could run faster than Ray.

"It's wonderful when it goes right," Ray said. "The interior feelings of accomplishment is huge when it goes right. When you missed it and you know you have left something on the table and this was your big shot, it's difficult. It's great when you get it right and not so great when you don't."

The pole could be determined by hundredths, even thousandths of a second. So, just what is it that a driver can do to make up such a small measure of time?

"If you could figure that out, you'd be a millionaire," Ray said. "When you look at computer printouts, you can take your team mate's and lay two identical laps where both drivers were in the same car, It's very difficult to measure.
he other."

What may make Saturday's run for the pole different is the weather conditions which are expected to change dramatically at the Brickyard. It and humid on Friday, but Saturday's forecast calls for clear weather and temperatures are expected to drop.

Winning the Indianapolis 500 pole is bigger than winning some races. That is why so much effort is put into going fast at the 2.5-mile oval, but starting from pole is not essential to winning the race.

"The job is to qualify up front and try to stay up front," Ray said. "In 1995, Jacques Villeneuve went two laps down so you can easily come from dead last. It's about having rhythm, balance, catching the pit stops right with yellow and green flags. You can win this race from the front; you can win it from the back. If you win it from the front and have a good car, it's easier than coming from the back. It's a crap shoot. It's racing..."

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