Rice's margin over Meira? A mere .005 seconds

Updated: July 4, 2004, 5:38 PM ET
Associated Press

Buddy Rice
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- The race was so close, Vitor Meira thought he might have won.

Buddy Rice knew better.

Rice picked up his second win of the year Sunday at Kansas Speedway, just .0051 seconds ahead of his Rahal Letterman Racing teammate in the second-closest race in Indy Racing League history.

"I don't even know how to measure that," Meira said.

The only IRL race that was closer was at Chicagoland in 2002 when Sam Hornish Jr. beat Al Unser Jr. by .0024.

"If I could actually see him alongside me, that would mean I'd be behind," Rice said. "When I didn't see him when we went past the start-finish line, I was assuming -- but I felt I'd won the race."

Rice, the Indianapolis 500 winner and Sunday's pole-sitter, narrowly lost the lead to Meira going into the last lap of the 200-lap Argent Mortgage Indy 300 -- with IRL points leader Tony Kanaan lurking just behind, looking for an opening.

With Rice inside and Meira outside, Kanaan never got a chance.

"They did a great job controlling the pace," said Kanaan, who dealt with fuel and gear problems for much of the day but still led a race-high 64 laps during a long green-flag stretch. "Buddy was lifting to keep Meira on the outside.

"I was trying to stick my nose in, which is the biggest part of my body in my car," Kanaan said. "It just didn't work out."

Meira's runner-up finish was his second in as many weeks -- but he had to check with his spotters to make sure.

"Before doing anything stupid, I just talked to the team and asked who won," he said. "Even then, I didn't really know for like 10 seconds afterwards."

Rice was just glad not to be dueling with a driver from a rival team.

"It's great being able to race each other cleanly," he said. "That's how it's supposed to happen, so I'm glad I could do it with my teammate."

Dario Franchitti was fourth, followed in the top 10 by Bryan Herta, Adrian Fernandez, Helio Castroneves, Hornish, Dan Wheldon and Alex Barron.

Wheldon, second in the points standings, saw Kanaan's lead increase from 15 points to 28.

"It's a long championship, and we just need to keep thinking points, points and points," Kanaan said. "I think we're going to get them."

Honda engines took the top six spots and seven of the top 10. Barron had the only top 10 finish for Chevrolet.

After Tora Takagi and Scott Sharp crashed on their way to the first-lap green flag, the race appeared headed for an uneventful finish.

But in the 175th lap, Kosuke Matsuura and Jeff Simmons were racing three-wide with Darren Manning going into the second turn when Simmons, in the middle, made contact with Matsuura's outside car.

The two cars rubbed tires, and both hit the wall.

At first, replays appeared to show that Matsuura's car had come in slightly on Simmons. But Simmons, a late replacement this week for the retired Al Unser Jr., said Manning forced him outside.

"He just dove down in there, and I didn't have room to go higher with Matsuura there," Simmons said. "I tried to back out of it easily, but they slammed together too quickly."

Wheldon, who won last week on the short track at Richmond, finished in the top 10 despite a near-disastrous early pit stop.

In the 54th lap, he pulled over the fuel tank in his pit when he drove away with the fuel line still attached to his car.

"Mistakes happen, and unfortunately it cost us a lot today," Wheldon said. "The best news is all of my guys are OK."

Tomas Scheckter, who started fifth and ran as high as second early in the race, was less successful in recovering from his own troubles in the pits.

Scheckter developed fuel problems in the 108th lap and had to limp into the pits. He killed the engine coming out, had to restart and never challenged again, finishing 15th.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press