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Published: Sunday, 7/30/2006

MIS notebook: Team Penske leads the way again

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BROOKLYN, Mich. -When qualifying for today's Firestone Indy 400 commenced here yesterday at Michigan International Speedway, they simply rounded up the usual suspects. And it was Marlboro Team Penske out front, by literally a mile.

The dominant team of Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. swept the front row for the race, with Castroneves taking the pole with a fast lap average speed of 216.777 miles per hour.

Hornish, the points leader in the IndyCar Series, posted a 216.466, and the duo were the only drivers in that fast club. It marks the fourth time this season that Castroneves and Hornish have started together on the front row.

Tony Kanaan of Andretti Green Racing was third fastest in qualifying at 214.763 mph, while his teammate Marco Andretti qualified last in the 19-car field at 209.886 mph. Danica Patrick qualified 11th with a 213.357 mph lap.

Castroneves landed his second consecutive pole, his fifth this season, and extended his Indy Racing League record to 15 poles.

"First of all, this Penske team works in a great atmosphere, and Sam and I have been sharing a lot of information," Castroneves said. "We knew Sam and I had two fast cars, and we just needed a tweak here and there. Sam and I work together, and obviously, I want to win this championship. But if I can't, I want Sam to win it. This has been a great atmosphere, and it helps when you are running in the front."

Does Castroneves, the jovial Brazilian who has two Indy 500 wins to his credit, expect the Penske cars to run away from the field and hide?

"I hope it is the most boring race here, and the two of us just take off," he said. "But what we know about IndyCar racing is it's never like that. You can't predict that. This series can be surprising."

Hornish, the Indy 500 champ who is starting on the outside of the front row for the fourth consecutive race, said his team came ready to take the front row.

"We're pretty quick right now, but I don't know if we're going to be that way throughout the race tomorrow," he said.

"We've brought good cars here, cars we thought could run really fast. I think the big thing for us tomorrow is going to be to work together and try and stay together. I think we are fast enough to run away from some people, and I hope when it comes down to the end, it will be Helio and I out there."

CARPENTER'S BEST: Ed Carpenter qualified fourth - the best starting position of his career. His previous best start was seventh last weekend at Milwaukee and at Texas in June, 2004. "We've been working hard all year, and you know we've had good race cars everywhere we've been," Carpenter said. "For a couple races I was struggling with qualifying, and we've really been putting a lot of effort into our qualifying to get our starting spots up. It makes it easier when you start with the quick guys here because you just hang on to them. The race car has been great up here in Michigan, and it's been fast since we've unloaded it, and I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's race."

RACE FOCUS: Rahal Letterman driver Buddy Rice, winner of the 2004 Indy 500, was not dismayed by his qualifying 10th fastest yesterday, choosing instead to concentrate on getting his car ready for the race.

"Our speed (213.450 mph) was OK today. It wasn't anywhere near the pole, but it was the fastest we have run today. But that isn't what we are concentrating on right now. We are working on the race. We need to get a car that will get us in the lead pack and then improve on the setup throughout the race. We need to have a car that runs with the traffic."

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.



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