Gladeville, Tenn. Billy Boat's new Infiniti-powered engine carried him to a new the track record at Nashville Superspeedway in qualifying Friday night for the Firestone Indy 200.
Boat pushed Sam Hornish Jr. off the pole with a speed of 203.774 mph, getting around the 1.33-mile oval in 22.96 seconds. That easily topped the mark of 199.922 set by Greg Ray in qualifying for this event last year.
The pole, the ninth of Boat's IRL career, ended a drought that stretched back to Atlanta in 1999.
"It's good to be back," he said. "I knew it had been a long time, but I didn't know how long,"
Helio Castroneves, the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and the IRL's points leader, followed Boat onto the track. He couldn't bump Boat off the pole with a time of 203.363 mph, but wound up on the outside of Row 1 for the race Saturday night.
Hornish will start third beside Tomas Scheckter. They were followed by Alex Barron with his best start of the season, Richie Hearn, Sarah Fisher, Felipe Giaffone, Eddie Cheever Jr. and Robbie Buhl.
Nashville stands out on the IRL schedule as the only concrete surface the series visits this season. But the concrete has hosted plenty of races since the IRL raced in Tennessee for the first time last year, and it showed it has aged well. Nearly every driver topped Ray's record.
In the first practice, 16 of the 22 drivers beat the best speed of a year ago. By the second practice, 21 of the 23 drivers topped 200 mph.
Once they got to qualifying, 20 drivers topped 200. Buddy Lazier, who won the inaugural race here, busted Ray's record as the first driver on the track for qualifying with a speed of 202.322. Boat said the track has more grip now, which helped the speeds. Now if only the extra rubber will help passing.
"I think we have a wider groove than last year, but it's still very narrow," he said.
The key for Boat has been switching to the Infiniti engine. This will be only his second race with the new engine, but he already has his best start of the season. He hadn't started better than eighth or finished better than seventh.
"I said when we made the switch the first thing we had to do was get to the front of the speed charts in practice, then sit on a pole. Then we could think about winning a race," Boat said.