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A new name at top of speed charts: Sharp news services

INDIANAPOLIS -- For the first time since the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened on Saturday, Scott Sharp and Kelley Racing have jumped to the top of the practice chart.

Driving a Dallara/Oldsmobile Aurora, Sharp nearly broke 224 miles per hour today with a lap of 223.936 mph during "Happy Hour," the final hour of practice when track conditions are most ideal for higher speeds.

"The Delphi team has been working really hard," Sharp said. "It was great to be able to do that and get them pumped up for all the long nights they've been putting in.

"The car's pretty good on the long run. Then we decided to see what the car could do. We took out a little wing thinking we could get in the 222s. Then, wow, I saw it pop up there on the dash, and we decided to come in. It's only Tuesday, and you have to put four of those laps together."

Juan Montoya and Jimmy Vasser proved why the powerful tandem from CART are serious contenders in today's practice session, which was closed for 2½ hours due to rain.

Montoya was second fastest with a lap at 222.102 mph in the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing G Force/Oldsmobile. Vasser was third at 221.773 mph, also in a G Force/Oldsmobile.

"The car is really good," Montoya said. "I'm happy with the speed that we got in in the half day we ran. We made some changes but didn't get a chance to get back out again. So we'll see how they run tomorrow."

Vasser, who competed in the Indianapolis 500 from 1992-95, also has adapted quickly to the IRL car.

"I'm pretty pleased with the car," Vasser said. "Coming out and really only making changes for a half day, we're still working on the car, but I'm sure tomorrow will look a little different. But overall, I'm pretty happy."

Sharp said he is not paying any attention to the two CART drivers. That might be a mistake come pole day and race day.

"I pretty much ignore it," Sharp said. "I don't know how fast they are going to run. I don't know how fast Greg Ray is going to run."

Ray was fourth with a lap at 221.740 mph and Stephan Gregoire rounded out the top five at 221.397 mph. Twelve 12 cars topped 220 mph.

Little Al takes it easy
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. has been one of the most active drivers in the first three days of practice but his team ran only 21 laps Tuesday. Unser's top speed was 220.017 miles per hour.

"Today was one of those days at the Speedway where weather dictates what your running day is going to be like," Unser said. "Hopefully the rain will stay away tomorrow. I feel good about the car, but those speeds are still climbing out there, and I keep saying over and over that we are absolutely just focusing on getting our G-Force qualified.

"We know that we have to use all of our track time valuably, because with the weather changing and the yellows that come out at the end of the day, you just never know how much track time you are really going to get."

Stewart takes a spin
Winston Cup driver Tony Stewart caused some excitement Tuesday when he jumped into Jeret Schroeder's Indy car and ran about 12 laps with a top speed of 218.124 mph.

Stewart is one of the owners for Schroeder's car and has raced in four Indianapolis 500s as a driver. He is not competing in this year's race because he wants to put full focus on the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina on the same day.

"Well, I wanted to play a bit," Stewart said. "And I also felt that I was not working enough with Jeret. I wanted to get a feel for the car and feed that back to Jeret. We're not where we want to be, but Jeret is doing a good job. He is giving the same info to (team owner and engineer) Larry Curry and that should give him confidence that what he is feeling is accurate. Jeret had questions. Larry had questions, and I had questions. And we wanted to get answers."

Last year, Stewart participated in both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 500.

"These cars are a lot of fun. I don't know if I like the new engines. They seem lazy. This is probably the only time you will see me in the car, though."

Stewart was asked if he had to have his arm twisted to get into the Indy car.

"No, just my little finger," he said.

Welcome back
Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Emerson Fittipaldi was honored today at the speedway. Fittipaldi won the Indianapolis 500 in 1989 and 1993 but has not raced here since 1994. He suffered a career-ending neck injury in 1996 at Michigan Speedway.

"I'm very surprised at the place," Fittipaldi said of his return. "They did a beautiful job here. Formula One will be very happy here. I don't know any facility in the world like this one. Now, with NASCAR and F1 joining the Indianapolis 500, it is the racing capital of the world in my opinion."

Fittipaldi was part of the CART contingent that left in 1996 over the creation of the Indy Racing League. But Fittipaldi gave credit to the growth of the IRL and said the Indianapolis 500 is regaining some of its stature.

Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears will be honored on Wednesday.

Crash report
Donnie Beechler hit the outside retaining wall in the first turn and slip into turn 2 with a little over an hour left in Tuesday's practice session. He was uninjured.

"We were just fine-tuning the car, I was going into the turn, and it just turned around," Beechler said. "Just a little adjustment here makes a big difference. That's why these cars are so close in times. But really, the car felt great this morning. But it never felt good this afternoon.

"We probably strayed too far with our adjustments. We've got a new car, and we'll probably start with our baseline setup."

Dan Drinan crashed for the second straight day when he hit the outside wall in the first turn. Drinan's crash came with 40 minutes left in practice. He also was uninjured.
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