Fisher happy with sixth row, Patrick not so much

Updated: August 12, 2006, 10:25 PM ET
By John Schwarb | Special to ESPN.com

SPARTA, Ky. -- Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher said they barely know each other, their careers having never crossed on or off the track.

This weekend at Kentucky Speedway is making up for lost time.

The female open-wheel pioneers, finally in the same event after a combined six years of IndyCar racing at separate times, will start Sunday's Meijer Indy 300 (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) in the same row, adding even more intrigue to the best storyline in IndyCar this side of Penske vs. Ganassi.

Patrick was fourth on the qualifying grid Saturday, posting a speed of 215.456 mph in her Dallara-Honda. Fisher went immediately next and ran 215.061, and through 14 more cars' qualifying runs the No. 16 and No. 5 stayed attached on the scoring pylon, settling into 11th and 12th overall.

The way they got there, however, was different.

"We were faster than we've gone all weekend, you can't ask for more than that," said a satisfied Fisher.

Patrick was not so thrilled with her Rahal Letterman Racing machine, but was eventually relieved to be on Row 6.

"I came off the track being pretty angry, thinking that I was going to be last and this wasn't going to be my day, but my engineer [Ray Leto] said it wasn't as bad as what I think it was," Patrick said. "Trust me, it felt like it was lugging its way around the track. To know I've outqualified a few cars helps."

And one of those cars just happened to be Fisher, who already has provided a highlight for Dreyer & Reinbold racing. Her 12th-place qualifying effort was the team's second-best this year on an oval. Such an effort may have seemed unlikely from a driver back in an Indy car after a two-year absence (Fisher's last race was the 2004 Indianapolis 500), but the former series regular said the comfort level returned in a hurry.

"When we fitted the seat on Monday, I fell asleep," said Fisher, who raced full-time in the Indy Racing League from 2000 to 2003. "It's that comfort of being in a familiar place, and being in an Indy car is familiar. It's like being home."

Klein claims pole for Pro Series race

The race for the championship in the Indy Pro Series is still up for grabs with four races left, and two of the contenders chasing points leader Jay Howard are on the front row for Sunday's 67-lap event (shown tape-delay Monday at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2).

Just 64 points separate first from sixth in the standings, with Howard holding a 30-point lead over Bobby Wilson. Jonathan Klein is one point behind Wilson in third place, and claimed the Kentucky pole Saturday with a speed of 189.392 mph.

Klein credited a test he and Andretti Green Racing teammate Dario Franchitti had at Kentucky last month. IndyCar Series teams can earn tests by fielding full-time Pro Series teams, and AGR has taken advantage of it multiple times this season.

"The test was big. We used it to learn a lot of things and really get a feel for the track," said Klein, a series rookie who has finished third in each of the last three events. "That definitely played a part in us getting the pole position here."

Starting next to Klein on the front row is 2005 series champion Wade Cunningham (189.019 mph), who is sixth in points despite running two fewer races than the top five. He had an emergency appendectomy in St. Petersburg and missed its two events, but in five races since then he has three poles, a win and two seconds.

IndyCars may visit Daytona

Ever wonder how IndyCars would perform over the 31-degree corners of Daytona International Speedway? There may be testing next spring to find out.

IndyCar and Daytona officials are discussing a compatibility test in September, which would determine whether the course could be suitable as a preseason testing venue.

IndyCars would test over Daytona's 3.56-mile road course. The potential compatibility test would be used to see transitions onto the banking, tire wear/side loads and braking zones while also looking for any challenging surface areas on the track.

There are no plans for a race at Daytona.

Etc.

Rookie Marco Andretti had his third poor qualifying effort in four races, landing 18th on the grid at 213.977 mph. But he has shown an ability to shrug off poor qualifying days, posting eighth-place finishes at Nashville and Michigan after starting 18th and 19th. … Fernandez Racing has dominated at Kentucky the previous two years, with Adrian Fernandez and Scott Sharp winning. Sunday, Sharp will start 10th and teammate Kosuke Matsuura seventh. … Road-course ace Ryan Briscoe, who will step back into the Dreyer & Reinbold IndyCar at Infineon Raceway in two weeks, finished second with co-drivers Wayne Taylor and Max Angelilli in the Daytona prototype event Friday at Watkins Glen. Ganassi Racing's Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz won.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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