Dario Franchitti won the PEAK Performance Pole Award for the Firestone Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, leading a front-row sweep by Target Chip Ganassi Racing ahead of the three-way battle for the 2009 IndyCar title.
The three contenders - Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe - occupy the top three spots on the starting grid, although the Kiwi still holds a narrow points advantage, leading Franchitti by four and Briscoe by eight.
Eight points between first and third is the second-closest margin in IndyCar Series history with one race remaining as, for the fourth consecutive year, the last race sees a shootout for the championship. It's a winner-takes-all scenario for Dixon and Franchitti - as it was in 2007, when Franchitti prevailed on the final lap at Chicagoland - but there are a few additional criteria for Briscoe to claim his first title, based on the bonus points for pole and leading most laps.
Franchitti earned his fifth pole of the season with a four-lap average speed of 212.696mph in the #10 Dallara-Honda, adding those already claimed on the ovals at Texas and Richmond and the road courses at Toronto and Infineon. It is the Scot's eleventh career IndyCar pole.
"To get one point was handy, but the hard work begins now because Ryan and Scott are right there - and there are a few other guys that I watched in practice that looked very, very strong for the race," the Scot said.
Dixon completed the third Ganassi front row sweep of 2009, while Briscoe was third fastest at 212.137mph in the #6 Team Penske car. The Australian has qualified fourth or better in nine of the ten oval events this season and, the only other time he qualified third on an oval - at Kentucky - he won the race.
"There's been a lot of focus today on getting the car set up and ready for qualifying," Briscoe said, "I'm sure, tomorrow, things will escalate with the nerves and so on. It's definitely a big deal, a huge deal for me, but I feel ready. I know I've got some very tough competition - the Target guys are way too quick in qualifying, and they are going to be strong in the race - so it's going to be a tough battle, but there's a lot that goes into a good race, and hopefully I can beat them."
Briscoe will be joined on row two by Vision Racing's Ed Carpenter, who again underlined his oval potential and will be a threat to the championship contenders on Saturday night.
"I'm really happy with that qualifying effort," Carpenter commented, "I felt like we were definitely going to be in the top ten, but we were flirting with a top five in practice. It's going to be an interesting race because everyone seems to be struggling in traffic on a challenging track. We thought it would be a little easier with all the aero changes than what it has been but, at the same time, it is kind of fun to come to a track where you really have to nail the set-up to have a good car.