Wed, Jul 07, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Buddy Rice steps ahead with a pair of IRL wins

AP , KANSAS CITY, KANSAS

Buddy Rice has gone from substitute to star.

Signed by Rahal Letterman Racing to fill in while Sweden's Kenny Brack recovers from a crash, Rice has rewarded his new employer with two Indy Racing League victories this season.

"You know, a lot of guys get opportunities and don't take advantage of them," co-owner Bobby Rahal said. "This guy came in, hit the ground running."

On Sunday at Kansas Speedway in the Argent Mortgage 300, Rice and Brazil's Vitor Meira gave Rahal Letterman a one-two finish in the second-closest race in IRL history.

Rice, whose first career victory came in May on the IRL's biggest stage -- the Indianapolis 500 -- said success runs both ways.

"You come to a top-rated team, a powerhouse team like that, and now all of a sudden you're competitive," he said. "It's just been a huge boost for everyone. That's the biggest thing that's happened."

Now, Meira -- who didn't even have a ride for the first two races of the year -- hopes to follow suit.

"Of course, I wanted to win. Of course, I was going to be happier if I won," said Meira, who held a tiny lead over Rice going into the final lap before losing by .0051 of a second.

"But this is just the way it goes. Sometimes you do make mistakes, sometimes you don't. Buddy did everything right, and we did not do everything perfectly."

Meira wasn't about to do anything to jeopardize either of his team's cars.

"One mistake would cost a lot -- the whole race," said Meira, whose runner-up finish was his second in two weeks. "So he won, and I was second. Doesn't really matter for the team if I win and he comes second or if he wins and I come second."

The only IRL race that was closer was at Chicagoland in 2002 when Sam Hornish Jr. beat Al Unser Jr. by 0.0024 of second.

The two Rahal Letterman drivers played out their late drama with IRL points leader Tony Kanaan lurking just behind. With Rice inside and Meira outside, Kanaan never got a chance.

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