Rice, Kanaan lead way -- again

Updated: August 14, 2004, 7:32 PM ET
Associated Press

Buddy Rice
SPARTA, Ky. -- Buddy Rice won his fifth Indy Racing League pole of the season at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday, moving within one of the series record.

Rice's qualifying speed of 216.016 mph left the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion one short of Billy Boat's record six poles, set in 1998. Two other drivers, Greg Ray (2000) and Scott Dixon (2003), have recorded five poles in a season, but Rice still has five races left to tie or break the record.

"We came off the trailer a little aggressive, and it worked out,'' Rice said.

Rice is tied for the IRL lead in victories at three with Tony Kanaan, who joins Rice on the front row for Sunday's Belterra Casino Indy 300. The 28-year-old Rice, who had no poles and no wins in 18 IRL starts during the past two years, entered the weekend second in the point standings, 57 points behind Kanaan.

"It's getting exciting, me and him in every race, wheel to wheel,'' Kanaan said of his budding rivalry with Rice.

"He has the talent, but he's fair and he's clean,'' said Kanaan. "We're both aggressive and both know what we have to lose. He's pushing me to the limit.''

Rice said his points duel with Kanaan is good for the IRL.

"This whole series thrives on close finishes and close battles,'' Rice said. "If either one of us makes a little bit of a slip-up, there's a guy standing right behind him, lurking.''

The defending race champion, Sam Hornish Jr., qualified third, his best effort of the season. He's finished in the top five in his last three races, moving him into fifth in the points standings.

Hornish Jr. won the IRL points title in 2001 and 2002 and finished third last year, thanks to a late run started by his win at Kentucky Speedway.

Adrian Fernandez will start on the outside of the second row. Dario Franchitti, whose wife, actress Ashley Judd, will be the race's grand marshal, qualified fifth.

Two drivers, Bryan Herta and Townsend Bell, had the engines changed in their cars before qualifying began and were not allowed to make qualifying attempts. Herta and Bell will start at the back of the 22-car field.

In the Kentucky 100, an IRL Infiniti Pro Series race run Saturday, P.J. Chesson held off Paul Dana by 0.0514 of a second to win. Chesson took the lead with seven laps remaining from Leonardo Maia, who finished third. Travis Gregg, who led for 57 of the race's 67 laps, finished fifth.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press