Ed Carpenter (left) claimed his first IndyCar Series pole position in a qualifying session full of surprises at Kentucky Speedway.
Points leader Will Power was denied pole by Carpenter's superb run, but still earned a front row slot on a day when most of the regular frontrunners underperformed – including his title rival Dario Franchitti, who was only 11th.
Without a full-time seat for 2010, Carpenter is making only his third appearance of the season at Kentucky in a joint Panther/Vision Racing entry. Having battled in the top five on his return to the series at Chicagoland last week, and come within inches of winning at Kentucky last year, Carpenter put himself in an ideal position to clinch a first career win tomorrow with a pole run averaging 217.933mph over the new two-lap format.
"The way I kind of look at it, I'm trying to keep my career going so every minute I'm in the car," Carpenter said. "I have to do the best that I can and get the most out of it. I'm just having a lot of fun right now; the Panther team is going a great job in addition with the Vision Racing part of it. It's just a lot of fun."
Indeed, the Panther team looks extremely strong going into Saturday night's race, with Carpenter's teammate Dan Wheldon following up his Chicagoland podium finish with third on the grid today.
Apart from Ganassi's Scott Dixon, who joins Wheldon on row two, all of Power's usual rivals were down the order – and puzzled by their lack of speed. His Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe were only eighth and ninth, while title threat Franchitti was back in 11th.
"I need a good result on a 1.5-mile oval this season and it's important that we finish ahead of Dario to keep the points lead," Power said. "I feel that qualifying is very important but this track allows for passing and a lot can happen during the race.”
Andretti Autosport fared even worse. Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick were unhappy with 15th and 17th places, and Tony Kanaan nearly understeered into the Turn 1 wall and ended up back in 26th, just ahead of teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, who spun into the Turn 2 wall on his run. That gave some underdogs a chance to impress, with Hideki Mutoh qualifying fifth for Newman/Haas and Mario Moraes seventh for KV Racing.
But it was Conquest Racing that, after Carpenter, had most to celebrate, as rookie Bertrand Baguette qualified a surprise, career-best sixth and his new teammate Tomas Scheckter claimed 10th.
Returnee Paul Tracy could not star on his second appearance with Dreyer & Reinbold though, the former Champ Car champion bemused by his car's poor pace as he took 23rd. Graham Rahal's return to Sarah Fisher Racing did not start well either – he bemoaned a severe straightline speed deficit as he struggled to 25th.
Pos Driver Team Speed
1. Ed Carpenter Panther/Vision 217.933mph
2. Will Power Penske 217.829mph
3. Dan Wheldon Panther 217.700mph
4. Scott Dixon Ganassi 217.533mph
5. Hideki Mutoh Newman/Haas 217.374mph
6. Bertrand Baguette Conquest 216.988mph
7. Mario Moraes KV 216.879mph
8. Helio Castroneves Penske 216.857mph
9. Ryan Briscoe Penske 216.600mph
10. Tomas Scheckter Conquest 216.589mph
11. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 216.533mph
12. Vitor Meira Foyt 216.434mph
13. Alex Tagliani FAZZT 216.391mph
14. Takuma Sato KV 216.265mph
15. Marco Andretti Andretti 216.173mph
16. Justin Wilson Dreyer&Reinbold 215.944mph
17. Danica Patrick Andretti 215.820mph
18. Alex Lloyd Coyne 215.272mph
19. Simona de Silvestro HVM 215.003mph
20. Raphael Matos De Ferran 214.948mph
21. Sarah Fisher Sarah Fisher 214.813mph
22. EJ Viso KV 214.595mph
23. Paul Tracy Dreyer&Reinbold 214.270mph
24. Milka Duno Coyne 213.343mph
25. Graham Rahal Sarah Fisher 212.364mph
26. Tony Kanaan Andretti 210.831mph
27. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti no speed