Briscoe edges Wilson for Mid-Ohio pole

Aug 8, 2009 - 9:27 PM By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer

LEXINGTON, Ohio(AP) -- Type in Ryan Briscoe's name on YouTube and "The Crash" pops up, right at the top in all of its fiery glory.

And up until now, the quiet Australian knows his brush with disaster at Chicago four years ago has been the defining moment of his career.

Briscoe was an IRL rookie battling for position early in the race when he collided with Alex Barron and flew into the fence, his car disintegrating around him as he slid along the wall. He fractured his collarbone and foot - minor injuries considering the way it looked - and he knows he's lucky to be alive.

"It's going to be one of the most spectacular crashes forever," he said with a laugh. "There's nothing you can do about it or erase what's happened in the past. I'm just glad I could be here talking about it."

He's also eager to provide some highlights that don't include fire, getting airborne at 200 mph or broken bones.

Midway through his second season driving for Roger Penske, Briscoe appears to be well on his way, holding a narrow lead over Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti in the points race coming off a spectacular win over Ed Carpenter last week at Kentucky.

On Saturday, Briscoe turned in a lap of 121.905 mph over the winding 2.258-mile course at Mid-Ohio, narrowly beating out Justin Wilson to take his third pole of the year.

It's the kind of season Briscoe knew he was capable of, one that's offered plenty of proof that he's finally ready to fill the shoes of Sam Hornish Jr., whom Briscoe replaced when Hornish decided to move to NASCAR after the 2007 season.

The transition to one of IndyCar's top outfits wasn't easy. Three of his first five races for Team Penske ended with Briscoe watching from the garage after crashing.

At one point last season he found himself in the bottom half of the standings - a very un-Penskelike position. Briscoe admits a part of him wondered just how much job security he had.

Penske's advice to his talented if admittedly nervous driver was simple: relax.

"Roger was always the one to say 'You've got nothing to prove here, be calm and go out and do your job,"' he said.

Briscoe finally broke through at Milwaukee, then followed it with a win at Mid-Ohio. He ended up fifth in the standings and felt he was close to competing for a title if he could find a way to keep his car on the track.

The momentum he built at the end of last season has carried over. He won the season-opener at St. Petersburg and the jitters he felt after taking over for Hornish are long gone. He feels comfortable in the cockpit and gives much of the praise to his crew and teammate Helio Castroneves.

"I think I'm getting to the point where I show up in the race to where I can go right out and start being aggressive and not just getting a feel for things and playing catch-up the whole weekend," he said.

Instead, Briscoe has been right there in the mix all year. Save for a slip at Richmond, he's been running at the end of each race, usually right at the front. He has five runner-up finishes in addition to his two victories.

It's the kind of steady driving that wins championships, even if it means Briscoe has had to check his ego at the door in some cases.

"It's not like I wasn't trying to win, but a few times I think we got unlucky and a couple of times I think we did get lucky just to finish second," he said. "It's just tough, but it's good that we're always knocking on the door."

Briscoe came crashing through last week at Kentucky, where he held off Carpenter by a couple of feet to sneak back in front of former series champions Dixon and Franchitti in the points race.

The two Target Chip Ganassi Racing drivers have been impressed with Briscoe's rise, but hope their experience racing for a title pays off over the final two months of the season.

Besides, if this year has proven anything, it's that success can be fickle. The points lead has switched hands following 11 of the 12 races.

"Normally at this point (in the year) you'd have a guy that's kind of tried to break away, led a lot of races, won a lot of races and had a big points lead and you've got to work to catch him," Dixon said. "It almost seems like nobody wants to lead the championship this year."

Consider Briscoe more than ready to volunteer. He dominated at Mid-Ohio last year, leading the final 25 laps to beat Castroneves by more than seven seconds.

A win on Sunday would give him a bit of a cushion, and eight drivers have used Mid-Ohio as the springboard to an open-wheel championship.

Dixon and Graham Rahal will start in the second row on Sunday, followed by Castroneves and Franchitti in the third row.

Maybe capturing a title would help Briscoe's Q-rating, though he seems plenty comfortable living anonymously in Mooresville, N.C., the middle of NASCAR country. He also has no plans to follow in Castroneves' footsteps on "Dancing With the Stars" in an effort to boost his marketability.

"I don't think that'd be good for anybody," he said, blushing just a little.

Not dancing won't be an option when he gets married to fiancee Nicole Manske, a TV host, in December. Just don't expect the video to end up on YouTube.

Better to be known for "The Crash" apparently, than having two left feet.

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