Pole in hand, Sharp working on race setup
INDIANAPOLIS (CNNSI.com) -- Scott Sharp knows winning the pole is only half the battle at the Indianapolis 500.
Since Arie Luyendyk won from the pole in 1997, the top qualifier at Indy has finished no better than 22nd. Now it's Sharp's turn to try to break the streak.
"It's a completely different environment, takes a completely different setup," Sharp said of qualifying well as opposed to finishing well in the race. "It's going to be who picks the right setups, who has a good day, who gets through traffic, who has good pit stops, and it could be anybody's day."
A starter in six previous races at Indy without having led a single lap or having finished better than 10th, Sharp will take the green flag on May 27 from the pole position, a precarious starting spot lately.
In 1998, Billy Boat started from the pole but went out after 111 laps with a bad drive line and finished 23rd.
In 1999, Luyendyk again started from the pole and dominated the race before a risky -- and unnecessary -- pass sent him into the wall and a 22nd-place finish. That same year, Robby Gordon, who had started on the inside of the second row, was leading the race and appeared headed to victory before he ran out of fuel with just over one lap to go and finished sixth.
Last year, Greg Ray started from the pole and led 26 laps before he crashed and finished 33rd -- the first driver out of the race.
"I don't look at the record books and try to pick the space you want to start for the best chance to win the race. Where the cars fall is where they fall, as far as qualifying," Sharp said.
"As a team, you need to work the best you possibly can, and I have the utmost confidence my guys are going to give me the most bullet-proof car of anybody out here," Sharp said. "They're fabulous mechanics. We just have to hope everything goes according to plan and we stay out of trouble."
Sharp has improved his starting position every race since he qualified 30th in 1995. He started fifth last year and ran as high as fourth in the first half of the race before finishing 10th.
"I don't feel any pressure. I'm excited for that," he said of his third career pole and first at Indy, which he earned with a four-lap average of 226.037 mph. "I want to lead the field. I want to lead into turn one. Once the green flag starts ... you know as a driver what you need to go do, wherever you start."
Ray, the 1999 Indy Racing League series champion, has started an IRL-record 11 races from the pole. He was second-fastest qualifier at 225.194, putting him in the middle of the front row between Sharp and Gordon, who qualified on the outside at 224.994.
"My race strategy is to go out, sit back and cruise," Gordon said. "With 75 to 50 laps to go, I'll turn it up. There are a lot of obstacles to get around, and you have to have a little luck."
Sharp said his strategy isn't any different as the pole-starter.
"We've picked out a race pace that we feel we want run, and we'll go run that. Obviously, most of the goal is to be there for the final 25 laps, so we'll probably worry about what position we're in when that time comes," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.