Tony Kanaan wins Las Vegas pole
LAS VEGAS -- IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard has turned the series' final weekend into a showcase, from creating a 34-car spectacle on Las Vegas Boulevard to offering a $5 million prize.
"Him (Power) and I were out there joking that you couldn't have scripted it any better," Franchitti said Friday after qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "We were wondering if Randy had a volume control for the power of each of our engines, turning them down."
Franchitti clearly said it in jest, but there's no doubt the contenders' starting positions will add an intriguing story line to a weekend that already has plenty.
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Dan Wheldon has a chance no one else in the field gets, a $5 million payout if he can come from the back of the field to win Sunday's Las Vegas Indy 300.
Danica Patrick has a shot at a second gender-breaking win, qualifying ninth in her final race as a full-time IndyCar driver before heading off to NASCAR.
Ultra-fit Tony Kanaan will lead the 34-car field after posting a speed of 222.078 mph around the 1.5-mile oval to capture the pole -- a week after completing the Ironman Triathlon with Oriol Servia, who'll start next to him on the front row.
It was all capped with the was-it-scripted qualifying run that had Power 17th and Franchitti right behind at 18th, setting up what should be a wild finish on a fast and wide track that could produce some four-wide racing.
"They're going to have to be careful," Kanaan said. "Hopefully, people in the grid will be smart enough to let those guys play (for) their championship."
The setup for the finale is a rematch of last year's finisher, only with Franchitti in the lead and Power chasing.
Franchitti won the previous duel, not to mention his second straight title and third overall, overcoming an 11-point deficit when a pit-road mishap dropped Power well back and left him unable to make up ground.
This time, the backdrop is the bright lights of The Strip with Franchitti leading by 18 points.
The Scotsman complained about his car being slow two weeks ago in Kentucky and off the truck once it arrived in Las Vegas, so he wasn't particularly surprised by the sluggish qualifying time.
Power lamented the all-out nature of driving at LVMS, where cars reached Indy-like speeds during practice sessions and a field of 34 -- second-largest in IndyCar history -- could make for some dicey driving.
"There's nothing to talk about this joint, it's so brainlessly easy, flat," Power said. "But what it did do was put us back in the pack, which is not brainlessly easy. That's very tough. The race around here is going to be so difficult. It's going to be a pack race."
Patrick will end her seven-year run as an IndyCar driver after this weekend in the desert, heading off to race a full-time schedule in the Nationwide Series with a handful of Sprint Cup races mixed in.
The first woman to win an IndyCar race and the sport's most marketable star, she had the fastest time in practice at just under 225 mph, but lost nearly 5 mph in qualifying.
"This will be a pack race on Sunday," Patrick said. "So while it is nice to qualify toward the front of the field, I'm not sure that will be a big factor for the race. If you have a fast car in the race, I think you will move to the front pretty quickly."
Wheldon has plenty of work to do in his chase to win $5 million; he was going to start at the back of the pack regardless of what he did. If he does pull it off, Wheldon will split the prize money with a randomly selected fan as part of the promotion.
James Jakes wasn't able to qualify after a fiery crash sent him to the medical center during practice. The back end of his car appeared to give way, sending it up the track and hard into the wall.
The car rolled to stop on the infield engulfed in flames and Jakes jumped out, swatting his backside as if it were on fire. He checked out fine at the medical center, but his car was a melted mess, leaving Dale Coyne Racing in a scramble to pull together its backup car, which the owner said was in bits and pieces.
Franchitti and Power are hoping they don't end up in the same situation with poor starting positions, a packed field and a championship on the line.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press