High-speed drama

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 4:06 PM ET

EDMONTON -- It's not often that the focus of an auto race is away from the leaders.

But broadcasters will probably want to dedicate an extra camera today to the middle of the pack for the Rexall Edmonton Indy.

While Team Penkse teammates Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves will start 1-2 in this afternoon's race (TSN, 5 p.m.), Canadian racing legend Paul Tracy and American racing diva Danica Patrick were slated to start side-by-side on the eighth row.

Tony Kanaan has elected to drop from 12th to the back of the 27-car field in order to change engines for the race, meaning Patrick will start 14th and Tracy 15th.

The pair might not be the pre-race favourites, but they could generate plenty of drama.

"Get the boxing gloves out," said pole winner Briscoe.

"There could be fireworks," said third-row starter and former Edmonton race winner Justin Wilson.

The best side bet since the week began is which driver will finish higher, Patrick or Tracy -- the Sports Illustrated swimsuit girl or The Thrill from West Hill. It's going to be interesting back there. The two have been the most publicized drivers at this event.

Patrick -- who tried to confront Briscoe during the Indianapolis 500 in May -- is coming off another war of words last week with Venezuelan driver Milka Duno during pre-race trials for the Mid-Ohio race. Patrick confronted Duno and complained she was blocking her in the corners, prompting Duno to throw a towel and shout at her American rival. The incident, caught on videotape, has generated thousands of web hits.

Tracy, famous for his aggressive style, said earlier this week it will be tough for "a girl" to come here and handle what he terms "the most physically demanding track in North America."

The battle for the checkered flag should be in the first few rows, where Briscoe and Castroneves -- who shared the front row in Mid-Ohio and finished 1-2 in the race -- will be joined by Oriol Servia and Scott Dixon on the second row and Will Power and Justin Wilson on the third row.

There's all sorts of top talent lined up behind them -- including Bruno Junqueira, Graham Rahal, Dan Wheldon, Mario Moraes, Enrique Bernoldi, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay -- for the only IndyCar race in Canada this year, but Patrick and Tracy might be where the real action is.

Tracy was close to making the cut when the first round of qualifying was shut down with a minute to go under a full-course caution flag after fellow Canadian Marty Roth spun out and stalled in the middle of the track.

Tracy managed to get one more lap in before time ran out, but it wasn't fast enough.

"We had such a good weekend so far, this was our first real hiccup," he said.

"We carried too much fuel and with too much weight in the car, I couldn't get the time down. We left it pretty late in the session to go and we had the speed in the car. We went out at the end and put in a great lap that would have seen us advance to that top 12, but the checkered flag had already come out.

THREE-ROUND KNOCKOUT

"But it's going to be a really tough and long race out there and people are going to make mistakes. We'll just be looking for every opportunity."

The qualifying sessions are effectively a three-round knockout. The 27 drivers raced in two groups in the first round. The top 12 then moved to the second round and the top six raced in the third to determine final positioning.

Patrick sounded upbeat despite getting knocked out in the first session.

"Surprisingly, I really thought I had a chance to get into the fastest six of my group," she said. "I'm definitely feeling better about the track as a whole than I was yesterday."

Roth will start in 25th spot.


Videos

Photos