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Former Indy winner dazzles again

INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Indy 500 winner Kenny Brack got his
comeback off the ground in a big way Saturday, qualifying for the
May 29 race with a faster speed than pole sitter Tony Kanaan.

When the 39-year-old Swede stepped out of his car following a
four-lap, 10-mile qualifying effort of 227.598 mph, defending 500
winner Buddy Rice -- the man he replaced in the cockpit of the No.
15 Rahal Letterman Racing entry -- was waiting there to give Brack a
big hug.

But Brack, coming back from serious injuries in a crash at Texas
Motor Speedway in October 2003, will have to settle for starting
23rd in the 33-car field for the Memorial Day weekend race after
missing the opening day of qualifications last week.

"I don't think the starting position will make a difference,''
Brack said. "I think having a good race car is what matters. I am
just relieved we're in the field and I'm also glad for the team.
They have had a real tough month, but they gave me the chance to
shine a little bit.''

It will be his first Indy Racing League start since the
devastating crash in which he broke both ankles, a thigh, his back
and ribs. One of the ankles was crushed, and Brack spent three
months in hospitals recovering and rehabilitating.

His performance Saturday was the culmination of all the hours of
physical therapy and training he has put in over the past 18
months.

About his qualifying effort, which included the fastest lap of
the month at 227.940, he said: "It wasn't perfect, but it was
plenty good enough.''

Kanaan led 22 qualifiers last Sunday with a speed of 227.566,
locking up the top starting spot for the 500-mile race. Brack
didn't even arrive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway until
Tuesday, called by team co-owner Bobby Rahal to replace the injured
Rice -- ironically, the driver who replaced him last year.

Rice, who started from the pole last year, was expected to be a
strong contender for both the pole and the race win again this year
before he crashed during practice on May 10.

Despite spending one night in the hospital with a concussion and
a back injury, Rice was expected to be back in his Honda-powered
Panoz this week, ready to join teammates Danica Patrick and Vitor
Meira in the race.

Instead, doctors discovered a partially torn spinal ligament in
his neck, forcing Rahal Letterman to find a replacement.

Brack got the call.

"I was surprised, although I have worked my way to be back for
an opportunity like this since I had my accident,'' he said. "I
have done a lot of rehab and a lot of hard work to be able to get
into one of these cars. I didn't have any opportunities (earlier)
in the month.''

Rice watched his replacement's qualifying effort with team
officials from pit lane.

"It's great for Kenny,'' Rice said. "He's done the job before,
but to come in on short notice and do this, it's awesome.''

Brack won the 1998 IRL championship and the 1999 Indy 500 while
driving for A.J. Foyt.

Foyt, who struggled to get his son Larry and grandson A.J. IV
qualified Saturday, was smiling after watching Brack's qualifying
effort.

"I'm real proud of the boy,'' Foyt said. "He's just an awesome
driver. To come back the way he did, it's great. He was hurt pretty
bad.''

The crash in the 2003 IRL season finale nearly ended Brack's
racing career.

Once he got back on his feet, Brack stayed close to the team
owned by Rahal and television talk show host David Letterman,
working with the other drivers and staying active. He tested an
IndyCar in June at Richmond but, despite being fast, Brack decided
he wasn't physically ready to return to the IRL.

When Rahal called on Monday night, though, he was ready.

He passed his Speedway physical Tuesday and took just five laps
Wednesday, under observation by IRL officials, to get up to 220
mph. In practice later that day, Brack reached 225. Thursday's
practice was rained out, but Brack, a five-time Indy starter, spent
most of the day Friday on track, turning 139 laps and getting more
and more comfortable with the car and the familiar 2---mile oval.

Still, Saturday's speed was something of a surprise to Brack.

"We've been working the race setup and didn't know what it
would do in qualifying,'' Brack said. "The team showed a lot of
faith in me and I'm glad I could do this.''

Ten more drivers posted qualifying speeds Saturday, leaving one
spot open for Sunday's final day of time trials.

Ryan Briscoe came back from a crash during a qualifying attempt
last week to post a four-lap average of 224.080. He was followed by
Patrick Carpentier at 222.803, Ed Carpenter at 221.439, Jaques
Lazier at 221.228, A.J. Foyt IV at 220.442, Marty Roth at 219.497,
Larry Foyt at 219.396, Jeff Ward at 218.714 and Jimmy Kite, filling
in for injured rookie Paul Dana, at 218.565.

Arie Luyendyk Jr., who passed his rookie test Saturday before
brushing the wall with his right rear tire, remained as the only
driver assigned to a car going into Sunday.

Although there is no certainty the field will be filled, there
remains the slim possibility of the slowest qualifiers being bumped
from the lineup Sunday if any deals for new car-driver combinations
can be made in time.

The last time fewer than 33 cars started at Indy was in 1947,
when 30 took the green flag.