Former Indianapolis 500 winner Kenny Brack got his comeback off the ground in a big way yesterday, qualifying for the May 29 race with a faster speed than pole-sitter Tony Kanaan.
When the 39-year-old Swede stepped out of his car following a four-lap, 10-mile qualifying effort of 227.598 miles per hour, defending 500 winner Buddy Rice -- the man he replaced in the cockpit of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Racing entry -- was waiting there to give Brack a big hug.
But Brack, coming back from serious injuries in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway in October 2003, will have to settle for starting 23d in the 33-car field for the Memorial Day weekend race after missing the opening day of qualifications last week.
It will be his first Indy Racing League start since the devastating crash in which he broke both ankles, a thigh, his back, and ribs. One of the ankles was crushed, and Brack spent three months in hospitals recovering.
His performance yesterday was the culmination of all the hours of physical therapy and training he has put in over the past 18 months.
''It wasn't perfect, but it was plenty good enough," Brack said of his qualifying effort, which included the fastest qualifying lap of the month at 227.940.
Kanaan led 22 qualifiers last Sunday with a speed of 227.566, locking up the top starting spot for the 500-mile race. Brack didn't even arrive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway until Tuesday, called by team co-owner Bobby Rahal to replace the injured Rice -- ironically, the driver who replaced him last year.
Six more drivers posted qualifying speeds yesterday: Ryan Briscoe (224.080), followed by Patrick Carpentier (222.803), Ed Carpenter (221.439), Jaques Lazier (221.228), Marty Roth (219.497), and Larry Foyt (219.396).
Nextel -- Mark Martin had no intention of taking a nostalgic ride around the track in his final All-Star race. He wanted to win it.
Martin pulled it off last night, winning the All-Star Challenge and its $1 million prize in what is supposed to be his final appearance in the dash-for-cash race. But after crossing the finish line at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Martin told his Roush Racing crew he's willing to come back for more.
''Thank you guys! Thank you!" Martin screamed over his radio. ''I'll be back next year if you give me a ride!"
As an All-Star race winner, Martin is forever eligible to enter the race regardless of whether he competes the rest of the year.
Martin was in second place, lined up next to leader Elliott Sadler, on a restart with 19 laps left in the race. But Sadler struggled on the restart and seemed to bump into the side of Martin. The contact knocked Sadler out of line, and Martin darted into the lead.
Sadler was second and was followed by Brian Vickers, who raced his way into the event by winning a qualifying heat right before the All-Star Challenge. Vickers spun out Mike Bliss right before the finish line to win the qualifier.
Monaco Grand Prix -- Kimi Raikkonen took the lead in qualifying for today's race, driving his McLaren-Mercedes around the 2.076-mile street circuit in 1 minute 13.644 seconds. The second qualifying run is four hours before the race, with the combined times determining the starting grid.
Renault's Fernando Alonso, winner of three races this season and runner-up to Raikkonen two weeks ago at the Spanish GP, was second in 1:14.125.