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Penske sticks to racing, not Ganassi rivalry

No. 1 for a while: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ryan Briscoe takes Turn 10 on his way to the fastest practice time during the morning session. Later Saturday, Briscoe qualifies ninth.

DIRK SHADD | Times

No. 1 for a while: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ryan Briscoe takes Turn 10 on his way to the fastest practice time during the morning session. Later Saturday, Briscoe qualifies ninth.

ST. PETERSBURG — IndyCar team owner Roger Penske has had an interesting week even before the racing got under way after team president Tim Cindric's comments about Chip Ganassi Racing went public.

Thursday, USA Today quoted Cindric as saying Penske Racing's rivalry against Ganassi's team, which has won five of the past six series championships, wasn't like Yankees-Red Sox so much as Yankees-Marlins, "a team with a long history against a younger team that came on strong and won a couple of World Series."

Even assuming Cindric meant the 2003 Marlins, who beat the Yankees in the Series, rather than the sub-.500 mess they have been since, Cindric's quotes rubbed Ganassi and his ex-driver, Dario Franchitti, the wrong way.

As for Penske himself?

"I'm not into baseball or football. I'm into racing," he said Saturday. "I think we have to realize there's more than two power teams. You've got Andretti (Autosport). You've got a bunch of these teams that are showing well. As far as I'm concerned, Ganassi has had a great record here the last 3-4 years.

"I think the noise in the system is intriguing to a lot of people. But I'm not getting involved."

Penske had enough of a sense of humor to say when it comes to Ganassi's switch this season from Honda to Chevrolet engines, which Penske also uses, "I think he gets something better than we do. No, look, it's a level playing field."

Meanwhile, Andretti Autosport moved the opposite direction for 2014, going from Chevrolet to Honda.

"I think what Michael saw was that there was a real open spot there for him, for his team," Penske said, "which probably makes a lot of sense."

SERIES TWEAKS: IndyCar will use single-file restarts at today's Grand Prix and all street and road courses this season, the series announced Saturday.

Double-file restarts create more passing opportunities and can be more exciting for fans, but they're also more dangerous for drivers at courses with little maneuvering room.

"It's a tough one because it is exciting to watch," said Derrick Walker, IndyCar's president of competition and operations. "But the worst-case scenario is when you get everybody banging into each other and we just look like idiots."

IndyCar will also introduce its new penalty system. Three stewards will use high-definition monitors and cameras to review incidents for possible infractions and levy necessary penalties.

PRACTICE NOTES: Ryan Briscoe had the fastest lap in the morning practice at 1:02.4236 followed by three-time Grand Prix winner Helio Castroneves (1:02.4730). Briscoe called the conditions "tough" because the 10 mph winds changed direction from Friday, coming from the northeast.

"The car feels not great, but I guess everyone's struggling out there with the balance," he said.

A.J. Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato, who later won the pole, was third-fastest and has been among the three quickest drivers in every practice. St. Petersburg resident Sebastien Bourdais was one of the other 10 drivers within a half-second of Briscoe.

THIS AND THAT: The only IndyCar event postponed until today because of rain was the installation of the plaque at the victory circle memorial to commemorate James Hinchliffe's win last year. … Robby Gordon, a former NASCAR and open-wheel driver, said he would be interested in racing at this year's Indianapolis 500 but only if it's the "right situation." This weekend, he is competing in the Stadium Super Trucks series, which he founded.

Jim Tomlin can be reached at tomlin@tampabay.com. Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter at @MattHomeTeam.

Penske sticks to racing, not Ganassi rivalry 03/29/14 [Last modified: Saturday, March 29, 2014 9:00pm]

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