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RECAP: FIRESTONE GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG

QUALIFYING.

Saturday saw a controversial qualifying session at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Despite having the speed to advance, both Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi were issued penalties for qualifying interference, negating their fast times and dropping the two veteran drivers from advancing. As a result of Rossi's penalty, Ryan Hunter-Reay and the DHL team advanced to the Firestone Fast Six and sat in sixth place with the checkered flag. Rookie Zach Veach had a strong first qualifying stint and ended the day with a time good enough for 15th on the grid.

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CHASING THE CHECKERS.

Round 1 of Verizon IndyCar Series competition is complete after an action-packed Sunday of street racing in the Sunshine State. The 110-lap Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg saw eight caution periods and plenty of excitement as NAPA Racing'sAlexander Rossi battled for for P1 and ultimately finished third when the lap count expired under a yellow flag.

DHL driver Ryan Hunter-Reay saw bad luck on the race start, and took the green flag from pit lane due to an unscheduled stop to clear an electrical issue. The Florida-native battled his way back, and was credited as a lap leader on his way to a top-five finish.

Veteran racer Marco Andretti started at the back of the pack, and drove the Ruoff Home Mortgage / Curb car all the way to third before recording a 94th career top-10 finish with ninth. In a strong day of learning and information gathering, Andretti Autosport rookie Zach Veach was forced to an early pit for a front-wing change with just eight laps complete, after contact with Tony Kanaan. Veach gained valuable seat time and experience, running as high as seventh on his way to a 16th-place finish - the highest finishing rookie of the race.

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NEXT.

The team heads to the desert for the Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Speedway. Coverage will be available for the first oval race of the season on NBC Sports Network beginning at 9 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 7.

Keep up to speed between the checkers and the greens withAndrettiAutosport.com and via our suite of social media channels.

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IN THEIR WORDS.

NO. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS HONDA
Verizon IndyCar Series

“Normally they don't allow Push-to-Pass on restarts. You'd normally have to do a timed lap before you did it, but because of the late call to go green that lap, they allowed it, and I actually got the call when I was in the middle of Turn 13 and 14. So I had a big jump on Rob [Wickens], and he got to the Push-to-Pass pretty late. The run was perfect for me going into Turn 1, and I knew there wasn't going to be many other opportunities. Obviously [Wickens] had a good car all day, and they did a great job.

"I made the pop. He defended the position, which he has the right to do, but in doing so, in moving the reaction, he put me into the marbles pretty late into the corner. It's difficult with these cars and with how much we're sliding around in the first place, even on the racing line. When you're put in the marbles, it's hairy. Super unfortunate. Like you never want to see that happen. I feel bad because I feel like I could have won and he could have gotten second. You never want to see that happen, but nevertheless, it was a great job by the whole team all weekend.

"I think that we showed that we had a car definitely to qualify up front yesterday, and we redeemed ourselves a little bit today. So a great work by the whole Andretti Autosport NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda team.”

NO. 28 DHL HONDA
Verizon IndyCar Series

The bad luck seems to end up happening at just the worst times. The car has been awesome all weekend, so to have an electronic issue happen when we are coming to the green – man, the luck. We started the race from pit lane and ended up fifth, so a great job by the team. I was hustling my rear end off out there today. That 28 DHL Honda sure was quick and deserved a better finish than it had. We just need to have better luck, or no luck, and hopefully we can start finishing these things right up at the front. It was great to have all our friends from DHL and AutoNation here with us today, and a big thanks to the fans for making this such a great event.”

NO. 98 RUOFF HOME MORTGAGE / CURB HONDA
Verizon IndyCar Series

“In the beginning, we seemed to have pace on [Firestone alternate] reds. Then, sort of got caught on blacks in the middle and it gave up a bit of time. On the last third of the early-on stint, we started to lose pace on reds so we wanted to come in and cover. We sort of split the baby on that one. We came out of the pits in traffic which was unfortunate, but we drove the Ruoff Home Mortgage car to third from 18th. We had to have been the ones to pass the most cars today. Overall, we’re still top 10 and we had pace, and that's better than lucking into a top-10 finish. Good things are ahead from the No. 98.”


NO. 26 GROUP ONE THOUSAND ONE HONDA
Verizon IndyCar Series

“Today was just too messy, honestly. The biggest thing that hurt me was taking that year off of racing [due to injury in 2016]. Once you’re in these situations over and over again, you’re honed and jump into it – it’s easy to minimize the mistakes. There were just too many of them today from me to be proud of. I want to apologize to [Tony] Kanaan. He kind of left the doorway open and, I felt, invited me in and it didn’t work out for either of us.

"All in all, had to walk away P16... but a lot learned, a lot gained. I know we weren’t the fastest rookie, but with circumstances, finishing the highest rookie -- that’s what this year’s going to be about. You’re going to have good days and bad days. It’s just all about consistency. The speed is there, it’s just all of the details I have to clean up. Most of all, I can take away patience. Just understanding how the races are going to fold out. And just how long the races actually are. The two races I did last year really don’t quantify how long these races are. The more I get under my belt, the easier it will get.”