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Castroneves hangs on to CART pole

The issue of track safety simmered in the background as Helio Castroneves held on to the pole position for today's Shell 300, the featured event of the Grand Prix of Monterey.

Castroneves, Team Penske teammate Gil de Ferran and Dario Franchitti remained in the top three Saturday despite failing to improve upon their first-round qualifying laps at Laguna Seca Raceway.

But Bryan Herta, dubbed "King of Laguna Seca" by his former car owner, Bobby Rahal, made the biggest move, to fourth in the 26-car field after missing Friday's session because of a broken fuel pump.

Even that effort was something of a comedown for Herta on the hilly 2.238-mile, 11-turn circuit, where he had never qualified worse than second and is the two-time defending champion.

"That was about as good a lap as I have run here," said the beaming Herta, who lost his full-time CART ride this season and wasn't sure he would race here until about two weeks ago.

On the same track where rookie Gonzalo Rodriguez was killed last September while driving for the Penske team, Patrick Carpentier walked away without injury from a spectacular crash Friday in which his car flipped over a wall.

The drivers met with CART officials and Saturday's driving was delayed for almost two hours while the discussions raged and track safety workers made quick adjustments to some of the areas deemed most dangerous.

ITALIAN GRAND PRIX: Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello clocked the two fastest qualifying times at Monza, Italy. Schumacher clinched his 29th career pole position, the sixth this season. The German turned the fastest lap in 1 minute, 23.770 seconds. Barrichello, who at one moment edged Schumacher by 0.014 seconds for a provisional pole, finished 0.027 seconds behind. Mika Hakkinen, who leads Schumacher by six points going into the 14th round of the World Formula One Championship, blamed an engine misfire and traffic for his third spot.

MATCO TOOLS SUPERNATIONALS: Cruz Pedregon won his 22nd career NHRA title at the rain-delayed 31st annual event in Englishtown, N.J. Pedregon limped his Pontiac Firebird down the track in 6.543 seconds at a top speed of 124.18 mph to defeat John Force. The victory was Pedregon's first since the '98 Matco Tools Supernationals in Houston. Doug Kalitta, Jeg Coughlin and Angelle Seeling were winners in their respective categories at the $2-million event, postponed by rain last spring.