Wade Cunningham, from Auckland, New Zealand, led the two-car Sam Schmidt Motorsports team in time trials today for Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar Series Kentucky Indy 300 in Sparta, Ky.

Driving the No. 17 Air Ride Pallet/AFS/SSM Dallara/Honda/Firestone car co-owned by Gary Peterson and AFS Racing, Cunningham turned a lap of 49.1596 seconds at 216.763 mph on the 1.5-mile tri-oval. This is just Cunningham’s second IZOD IndyCar Series start of the season.

“Though I haven’t raced since Texas, it was easy to get comfortable back in the car because we just had a test here last week,” Cunningham said. “Getting up to speed wasn’t an issue. I just continued working on the philosophy that we had adopted for the test. We were just trying to refine the package.

“I am really disappointed with the qualifying run, though. We felt like we had a pretty strong car looking at the no-draft laps. We know we ran a lot better than that in our qualifying simulations in practice. I think we just got a bit ambitious in gearing and geared the car too long. We just weren’t able to pull the gear. In a competitive series like this, you can’t afford to leave much on the table. We did, and that’s why we feel we’re not where we should be.”

Dan Wheldon, driving SSM’s No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, will start 28th in the 29-car field Sunday. Wheldon did not make a qualifying attempt after his car did not pass a pre-qualifying technical inspection.

“We did a lot of race trim runs in the two practice sessions,” said Wheldon, the 2005 and 2011 winner of the Indianapolis 500. “We’ll continue to work on it overnight. I’d expected the field to be strong, but I didn’t think about or even consider we’d be starting where we’re starting. I’m looking forward to the race. Obviously, I’ve been out of the car for a long time, but I’m very comfortable in the car.”

Penske Racing’s Will Power captured his eighth PEAK Performance Pole Award of 2011 and the 24th of his Indy car career by turning a lap of 48.5948 seconds at 219.283 mph. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Graham Rahal will start next to Power on the front row after he produced a lap of 48.8028 seconds at 218.348 mph.

Newman/Haas Racing’s rookie James Hinchcliffe will line up on the inside of the second row with the third fastest qualifying time of 48.8391 seconds at 218.186 mph. Sarah Fisher Racing’s Ed Carpenter will line up on the outside of the second row with the fourth fastest qualifying time of 48.8799 seconds at 218.004 mph.

Panther Racing’s rookie JR Hildebrand rounded out the top five in qualifying with his lap of 48.9095 seconds at 217.872 mph.

The Kentucky Indy 300 gets underway at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 2, with live coverage provided by Versus.

Date:               Oct. 1, 2011

Event:             Kentucky Indy 300 (Round 16 of 17)

Series:                         IZOD IndyCar Series

Location:                    Kentucky Speedway in Sparta (1.5-mile, tri-oval)

Pole Winner:   Will Power of Penske Racing (48.5948 seconds at 219.283 mph)    

SSM Lineup:   Wade Cunningham (15th, 49.1596 seconds at 216.763 mph) 

Dan Wheldon (28th, No Time)