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As Graham Rahal sits out, foe says it would have helped

HOMESTEAD — Some IndyCar teams didn't swallow Newman/Haas/Lanigan's reason for pulling Graham Rahal's entry from Saturday's season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway — that a testing crash crippled its only race car. Enough spare parts and cars not set up to run on the streets of St. Petersburg on April  6 were supposedly available from other teams, so the former Champ Car driver could make his second career start on an oval.

"We would have liked to have been able to help with that but nobody asked," Team Penske president Tim Cindric said.

Added team owner Roger Penske: "We would give anybody (anything). We've got wings and stuff we'd help them, no problem."

Rahal Letterman Racing, co-owned by Rahal's father, former driver Bobby, also had said it would have helped.

Also, series CEO Tony George, owner of the Vision Racing team that is mentoring Newman/Haas/Lanigan, said Friday that he had an unused extra car.

Rahal, 19, one of nine drivers moving to the IRL, said missing the Gainsco Indy 300 and beginning preparations for St. Petersburg could be "a blessing in disguise." Transitioning Champ Car teams are trying to schedule more tests.

WILL DRIVE FOR SOFA: The good news for area businesses and Grand Prix of St. Petersburg organizers is high-end lodging is apparently so scarce for next weekend that two-time defending winner Helio Castroneves almost couldn't find a place to stay. Penske's sale of his 153-foot yacht, Detroit Eagle, eliminated one place, and the women's Final Four at the St. Pete Times Forum soaked up many more rooms.

"I called every place and said, 'It's me! I won last year!'  " Castroneves said. "They said, 'Sorry, you have to commit for a week.' "I said, 'I won't be there for a week, three nights.' But thank God I found a place. Put it in your newspaper: If someone has a home for me to stay, I will."

The experience gave the Coral Gables resident another reason to expedite his casual search for a local beach property.

"It's about destiny," he said. "I think that will end up happening. St. Pete is a perfect place for me on the beach."

SPARK PLUGS: Vision Racing's Ed Carpenter and A.J. Foyt IV lost second and third starting spots, respectively, when their cars failed post-qualifying inspection. The IRL did not release details, but Penske told a group of fans that the cars had misaligned rear wings that increased their speed by upwards of 1.5 mph.

As Graham Rahal sits out, foe says it would have helped 03/29/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 31, 2008 1:49am]
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