ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Chip Ganassi just wanted to watch a Yankees game, not dodge a brush-back pitch from his biggest rival.
The president of Team Penske aimed his barbs high and tight at Ganassi, and now IndyCar’s top two organizations are embroiled in a back-and-forth verbal spat that quickly spiced up the series’ version of Opening Day.
It began when Penske President Tim Cindric said Penske and Ganassi have an “intense competition” instead of a rivalry because “rivalries take place over a long period of time.”
“If you want to think of it in baseball terms, it would be the Yankees and the (Miami) Marlins — a team with a long history against a younger team that came on strong and won a couple of World Series,” Cindric told USA Today
That didn’t sit well at all at Chip Ganassi Racing, which has won five of the last six IndyCar championships and three Indianapolis 500s since 2008.
“I was there Thursday when the Pirates played the Yankees and I didn’t see Tim there,” Ganassi said. “I don’t really dignify Tim’s comments when they are good or bad.”
As the season officially kicked off Friday with a pair of practices on the street course of St. Petersburg, attention was focused on the most recent spat between the two storied organizations. There was squabbling a year ago as Ganassi’s Scott Dixon raced Penske’s Helio Castroneves for the title, and Dixon had a rash of run-ins with Penske driver Will Power during a critical stretch of the season.
Dixon ultimately won the championship, his third overall and the most recent for Ganassi, who moved to 5-0 over the last six years in head-to-head competitions with Penske for the title.
It’s a stat Roger Penske himself apparently noted when he saw Ganassi on Friday at St. Pete.
“Even Mr. Penske this morning recalled that we won five of the last six championships,” Ganassi said. “He did not mention the Florida Marlins. He did say, ‘I’m getting a lot of press the last couple days with your name attached to it.’ I think from time to time, Tim probably cashes a lot of checks in different currencies that Roger doesn’t like cashing.”
The swing of late has definitely been for Ganassi, who has 10 overall titles, has twice won four consecutive championships, and has hoisted the IndyCar championship trophy in four of the last five years. Penske has 12 titles — none since 2006 with Sam Hornish Jr. — but has a record 15 Indianapolis 500 victories.
Dario Franchitti, who won three championships and two Indy 500s from 2008 through 2013 driving for Ganassi, noted the recent dominance in defending the organization.
“I think Roger Penske is a class, class operator. He’s first class. I thought Tim’s comments weren’t in any way — I think they kind of summed him up a little bit,” Franchitti said. “If I had the resources that he’s had in his hands, I would be a little upset with the success ratio they have had recently.”
For his part, Penske said he “absolutely does” consider Ganassi a rival.
“I think he’s been the guy to beat, he’s beat us each one of the last few years and we look at him as the benchmark we have to compete with,” Penske told The Associated Press.
So he doesn’t share Cindric’s view that the Ganassi organization is like the Miami Marlins?
“I haven’t tried to evaluate baseball, football or make analogies to racing,” Penske said. “I just look at him as a good competitor.”
Adding layers to the rivalry this season is that Juan Pablo Montoya, who spent the last seven years driving for Ganassi in NASCAR, returned to open-wheel this season in a Team Penske car. And Ryan Briscoe, who drove for Penske from 2008 through 2012, is starting his second stint driving for Ganassi.
Both organizations also are now in the Chevrolet camp after Ganassi’s defection from Honda at the end of last year.
But Ganassi insisted that Chevrolet does not have them battling each other for the lead dog role with the manufacturer.
“Not one thing that Chevrolet has ever said to me, Ilmor, Penske, not one thing has ever led to believe that we are in a secondary or superior position than they are,” Ganassi said. “Everybody is the same. And that’s kind of refreshing. There’s no substance that anyone is secondary, or lead team or secondary team.”
Season results will ultimately show where the two organizations stack up this year. For now, both teams head into Sunday’s season-opening race with tension already high.
And that might not be a bad thing.
“Hey, some drama is good for the series,” Castroneves smiled.