Ray takes Atlanta pole

So far this season, Greg Ray has been the master of pole qualifications in the Indy Racing League. If only he could change that and become a master at winning races this year. Ray, the defending IRL champion and three-time race winner in 1999, won the pole Friday night for Saturday night's Midas 500 Classic. But Ray is mired deep in the IRL standings in 19th place without a race win and with just one top 10 finish.

Ray takes Atlanta pole

Defending series champion Greg Ray took pole for tonight's Atlanta round of the Indy Racing League.

He desperately needs a change of luck in the race, as he is currently languishing in 19th place in the standings. The Menard driver has not won a race in 2000 and has only finished in the top ten once.

Ray won the pole with a lap at 216.10mph in his Dallara-Oldsmobile Aurora. The lap was so good, he didn't even bother taking his second lap.

"Do you think somebody is going to beat 216?" Ray asked. "That one was in the bag. Nobody was going to beat it."

This is Ray's eighth career pole and his fifth so far this season.

"Our team did a great job," Ray said of Team Menard. "We picked up where we did last year. One of A.J. Foyt's cars qualified on pole here last year. We had a mechanical problem that took us out of the lead. We had a good car at Texas and it was washed out because of the rain. Starting 17th was a tough place to draw from. We learned a lot from Texas. We will have a better racecar. We all deserve a good result.

"There have been situations where I've made huge mistakes, situations where I had mechanical failures, things where you had nothing you could do. What we have done since Pikes Peak is work on a lot of small things."

Ray edged Eliseo Salazar for the pole.

"We're pretty happy," Salazar said. "We knew Greg was tough to beat. It was a disappointment to lose it at the end because we knew he would do a 216. With three races to go, it's getting pretty tight. For us, it's important.

"This race will be a carbon copy of Texas, maybe even closer. That is going to be exciting. The further to the front you are, the easier it will be. I hope we can work out some kind of a deal. It's not going to be easy."

This is the IRL's first race at a 1.5-mile track since a stunning show at Texas Motor Speedway in June that featured side-by-side racing through the first five rows for nearly 30 laps. It ended in the closest finish in IRL history with Scott Sharp defeating Robby McGehee by 0.059s.

Donnie Beechler was third quick at 212.850 mph in a Dallara-Aurora followed by Jeff Ward's 212.850 mph in a G Force-Aurora and Sarah Fisher's 211.839 mph Dallara/Aurora.

With only three races remaining in the IRL this season, Ray is desperate for a good result to help salvage his season.

Al Unser Jr. was the last driver to attempt to make a qualification lap, but he had to pull off course after his engine failed. He will start 24th in the 25-car field.

"I don't know exactly what went wrong with the engine," Unser said. "Something happened to it. We tried to change the batteries and give it another shot. It is something mechanical that went away on the engine. It was running clean and strong and it went away then.

"The draft will help us out for tomorrow. With a couple of yellows, we can get up and be a part of that lead group. We've had a lot of experience, especially the last three or four years coming from the back. Hopefully, we will be able to do it. The series is competitive enough. It's close enough. As long as we do pit stops at the right time we can work our way on up there."

Qualifying order for the Midas 500 Classic:

1 Greg Ray Menard Dallara-Aurora 24.988s
2 Eliseo Salazar AJ Foyt G Force-Aurora 25.329s
3 Donnie Beechler Cahill Dallara-Aurora 25.370s
4 Jeff Ward AJ Foyt G Force-Aurora 25.418s
5 Sarah Fisher Walker Dallara-Aurora 25.491s
6 Jeret Schroeder Tri Star Dallara-Aurora 25.508s
7 Mark Dismore Kelley Dallara-Aurora 25.532s
8 Robbie Buhl Dreyer & Reinbold G Force-Infiniti 25.533s
9 Buzz Calkins Bradley Dallara-Aurora 25.534s
10 Airton Dare Team Xtreme G Force-Aurora 25.577s
11 Buddy Lazier Hemelgarn Dallara-Aurora 25.629s
12 Robby McGehee Treadway G Force-Aurora 25.641s
13 Scott Sharp Kelley Dallara-Aurora 25.667s
14 Eddie Cheever Team Cheever Dallara-Infiniti 25.750s
15 Tyce Carlson Hubbard Dallara-Aurora 25.796s
16 Scott Goodyear Panther Dallara-Aurora 25.799s
17 Davey Hamilton Team Xtreme G Force-Aurora 25.816s
18 Shigeaki Hattori Treadway G Force-Aurora 25.847s
19 Billy Boat Pelfrey Dallara-Aurora 25.863s
20 Stephan Gregoire Simon G Force-Aurora 26.199s
21 Scott Harrington Mid America Dalllara-Aurora 26.283s
22 Stevie Reeves Logan Dallara-Aurora 26.735s
23 JJ Yeley Byrd-McCormack G Force-Aurora 26.981s
24 Al Unser Jr Galles ECR G Force-Aurora no time
25 Jimmy Kite Blueprint G Force-Aurora no time

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