Wrap: That's a pole, good Buddy

Updated: May 17, 2004, 10:47 PM ET
ESPN.com

ESPN.com takes a look at what went down in the racing world this past weekend.

Ashley Judd
APLucky draw? We'll leave that to you, but Dario Franchitti's wife has a knack for drama.
Biggest surprise: Buddy. Rice. Yes he qualified on pole in the IRL season-opener at Homestead, but that was Homestead, and this was Indy. If the snakepit didn't know who this guy was before, they will now. In 87 previous Indy 500 races, the pole-winner has gone on to win 16 times. Clearly Buddy's no lock on May 30, but he's no longshot at this point, either. His Honda engine is powerful, and clearly he isn't afraid to dance near the wall at IMS. Car owners Bobby Rahal and David Letterman aren't playing around. Most impressive.

Biggest non-surprise: Dale Earnhardt Jr. coming back from a tough outing in Fontana and winning under the bright lights at Richmond on Saturday night. He has three wins on the season, folks in Talladega probably still think he has four, but however you slice it, he's having the best season in Nextel Cup. He is a threat to win anywhere now, something that couldn't be said earlier in his career.

Also, Marty Roth not qualifying yet for Indy. It's good to go it alone, Marty, and fight the good fight -- but please, for safety's sake, know when to say when. Hey, we'll say it: The entire Indy field will be nervous if Roth runs.

Biggest disappointment: Rain at Indy. Though this could just as easily go with the above category -- really, can anyone recall a dry month of May in Indianapolis? Still, it makes for fewer fans and really messed up the television window during the first qualifying weekend.

Gutsy move: Chip Ganassi having his drivers wave off runs late in the qualifying game on Saturday. We know Ganassi's a powerhouse in the sport and knows what's best, and it worked out OK as Scott Dixon got in at No. 13 and Darren Manning at No. 15 on the grid, but imagine if the gamble had put the defending series champion in a second-day qualifying spot in the low 20s instead.

Boneheaded move: Anyone who pitted late in the Nextel Cup race at Richmond. As Junior knew and pointed out, fresh tires on that track were a disadvantage, so unless you were going to run out of gas, the only smart move was to stay out there and race for the checkers.

Redemption: Newman-Haas Racing, after being gone from the Indy picture since 1995, came back with a one-car effort and put Bruno Junqueira at No. 4 on the starting grid. There's no political message here, though many will see it as such, but credit goes to that group for such a fine showing.

Random stat: Five in a row. No, F1 was off so we're not talking Schumi. It's Greg Anderson. Yes, the Pro Stock myth is tearing it up, and now he finally has tamed Atlanta, too.

Random thought: How many times will Buddy Rice appear on the Late Show now that he has won the Indy 500 pole? And if he wins the race, would Letterman just make him a permanent show fixture, maybe replacing Smitty's gig? Hmmm...

General amazement: 329.83 mph. That was Tony Pedregon's pass in his Funny Car on Saturday at Atlanta. That's mooovin'.

Quote: "I can still drive, obviously. Some people didn't think I could do that." -- Rice, 28, on his Indy pole victory.

Photo: Check out the photo of the week. Junior is shredding some more tires. It's good to be king.

Tell us what you think: Share your thoughts with us about the weekend's action.

 
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