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Pedley: Penske-Ganassi Rivalry Heating Up?

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 24 2011

Mike Hull, Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske shared smiles at Indy this year. Their amiability may have gotten a test after the IndyCar Series race at Milwaukee last weekend. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Let’s see what’s in the old Morning Memo today:

A lot has been made over the years about the rivalry between Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi. And it’s a rivarly that has been there.

But it has mostly been of the non-acrimonious variety.

Now, in the wake of incidents during the IndyCar Series at the Milwaukee Mile last Sunday, you have to wonder if the rivalry is as non-acrimonious as it used to be.

In case you missed it, a significant incident occurred during the fourth caution of the day.

Target Chip Ganassi driver Dario Franchitti cut the turn into his pit stall rather sharply and clipped the corner of the pit stall behind his.

That stall belonged to Team Penske’s Will Power.

As has been pro forma in IndyCar, the right-side front tire was laid out on the ground in the stall. Standing on the tire was a Penske crew member. That procedure, too, has not only been pro forma but also mandatory as series rules say that the right front tire changer must have one foot on his tire when the car comes into the pits.

Franchitti hit the tire, which appeared to be well within the stall, and knocked the crew member off.

Nobody was injured.

And nobody was penalized. That kind of stunned Team Penske personnel. A source close to the team

Dario Franchitti and Roger Penske.

indicated that folks on the team were none too happy about it.

And they probably shouldn’t be.

The INDYCAR rule book says that hitting people or pit equipment calls for a penalty. The incident took place in front of TV cameras yet Franchitti blew out of the pits, was not black-flagged and went on to win the race.

The victory tied him with Power for the points lead.

Penske officials opted not to press the matter after the race, knowing nothing could be done.

On Tuesday, INDYCAR spokesperson Amy Konrath told us that race officials saw no violation.

In addition, series competition boss Brian Barnhart told drivers in the pre-race meeting, “Know your neighbors. Please help cars in and out around you. Right fronts, pick up and move out the way for a car pitting in front of you. Clear right rears and hoses as quickly as possible for better exits of the cars behind you. Please use professional courtesy and exercise good decisions.”

On Wednesday, Franchitti said no penalty should be called on the tire clip. He said etiquette dictates that the wheel be picked up in that circumstance.

“And we, my right rear guy, would do the same for Will on the exit to allow him an immediate exit out of his pit box,” Franchitti said.

Rather than being apologetic, Franchitti surged in his offensive. He ripped into a second Penske driver, accusing Helio Castroneves of blocking.

Should, say, Power lose this year’s championship by a point or two to Franchitti – he lost by five last year, remember – it will be awful tempting to look back at the Milwaukee race and point to it as the day a non-call changed it all.

Memo to self: Do not park next to Franchitti at the super market.

More Milwaukee

Dang disappointing to see all the empty seats at the Milwaukee Mile on Sunday. Good weather, good

The Milwaukee Mile was a lonely place on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

series, great racing. The only thing missing, fans, was you.

Time was, the track at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds was hugely important on the American racing scene. It was the Darlington or Martinsville of the North only older and with more history.

They started racing cars their two years before they did at Indy. It settled in as the place where they raced the week after the Indy 500. Teams would pack up after the 500 and hit the highway north to West Allis.

For decade after decade, big-time races at The Mile were major social/sporting events in Southeastern, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. The area, where racing was entrenched the way it still is in the Southeastern U.S., would buzz with excitement when the Indy cars came to the West Allis, which is located on the southwest side of Milwaukee.

The Mile – State Fair Park, as the locals used to call it – was not only a monument to tradition. It was and is a hell of a good racing venue. It is wide and flat and requires both good skill and good machinery.

Like Lambeau Field 100 miles to the north, The Mile sits hunkered down in a residential neighborhood. That can be a challenge when it comes to things like parking – especially for the neighbors. Despite upgrades over the years, it still feels old and dog-eared.

But, like Fenway and Bristol, it makes up for that in atmosphere.

I don’t know; maybe racing fans are being tired of being jerked around by whomever, maybe Summerfest was in town, maybe a hot new video game debuted last weekend, maybe they were showing replays of the royal wedding.

Whatever. The crowd at State Fair Park was anemically thin and no true race fan can be happy about that.

Memo to stay-at-homers: When you get bored of virtual reality, come back over and give actual reality another try.

Panning for penalties

The list of the three biggest mysteries in the world:

1: Atlantis – did it exist beyond the mind of Plato?

2: Jimmy Hoffa – cut up, placed in oil drum and dumped in ocean, or buried in end zone at Meadowlands?

3. Joe Gibbs Racing oil pans – what the heck were they thinking when they bolted them to the engines of the cars that were heading to the track at Michigan last weekend?

Kyle Busch's car needed additional work after inspection at Michigan. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

No. 3 may be the most unexplainable. This is not an obscure, minor rule, the one that says all parts must be approved by NASCAR before they can be raced. It’s out there. It’s been out there forever and messing with it is like looking down the barrel of Clint Eastwood’s giant pistol: Do ya feel lucky today?

I simply do not understand what the people at Gibbs were thinking. New oil pans? They are large, very visible parts. It’s not like fattening a valve spring by a milli-micron.

If it is the thrill of tempting fate that led to the decision to install the pans, then take it outside – try taking salmon away from a grizzly bear or drink to excess and get behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 you’re not qualified to drive when you’re sober.

Don’t, as a team that is viewed by NASCAR as a tad roguish to begin with, poke a stick at Robin Pemberton. Makes no sense.

Memo to JGR: You might want to leave cars with the hidden nitrous bottles back at the shop this weekend.

And finally

Was that really A.J. Foyt who was seen on TV after a bad performace by his IndyCar team at Milwaukee saying; sometimes you have to take the bad with the good?

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 24 2011
5 Comments

5 Comments »

  • Terry says:

    Gibbs is such a phoney and he gets by with it…..no matter what stratosphere his hypocrosy hits…..
    Ganassi-Penske….is a TEMPEST in a TEAPOT….oh crap I will get blocked for using a classical reference….

  • Geoff Pauers says:

    Milwaukee 225, Many of us volunteered for the race to keep Indycar racing in West Allis. Last year it was gone. 2008-9 was run much better I thought. 2011 new operations and promoters. 15000 fans were good out of 38000 considering;
    1: it wasnt the week after the 500 as it used to be.
    2: ticket prices were up from 08-09, until the sat night 2 for 1 sale. Too little too late.
    3: promotion was poor until the 500,
    4: It was Fathers day.
    5: The forcast was iffy, It rained hard in the am for 2 hours and after the race heading home. The wind was cool off the lake and it got cloudy.
    6: it was on national tv…. hello
    7: There were other festivals going on now, that weren’t a week ago.
    8: The race was a sleeper, The only fight for the lead was with Kanaan, who spun out and touched the wall. Now you had 5 cars up for the lead with a double file restart and they all spread out and kept their safe 3-4 car length distances from each other for a 30 lap Sunday cruise to the finish..
    9: 225 isnt long enough. Should be at least a 300 if not 400.
    10: Navigation around the park was somewhat difficult without a map.
    11: Tickets were not being sold at the on site expo center ticket office as they used to be, an inconvenience.
    So there you have it. Many reasons for lack of interest on that particular Sunday. Correct these 11 and you might get a much better showing if not a full house. OH, the economy, unemployment, gas prices, just might be a bit of a factor in the midwest.
    Thanks for listening talk to you next year hopefully

  • Mara says:

    I don’t think there was any bias in the article. Everyone else who has ever hit pit equipment has gotten a penalty, regardless of “etiquette”. It should have been no different for Dario. Etiquette is optional..rules are not.

  • Bigtosh says:

    Well your article on the Ganassi/Penske rivalry certainly shows us your position on who you want to win the championship. If it was discussed in the drivers meeting before the race, then surely the Penske right front tire changer was also at fault for not adhearing to the direction given by Brian Barnhart. Maybe we should just call it even after that rediculus drawing positions out of the hat episode in Dallas. If Franchitti hadn’t displayed what a great champion he is by passing 21 cars (without any great reward for doing so) it would have been a boring race. Also, how many chances should Helio get, or should I say, how long will it be before he really causes someone to get badly hurt, he is starting to become desperate and trying anything to get positions. I suppose that’s what happens when you slip from being a champion to being average.

    • John Sturbin says:

      Texas Motor Speedway is located in far north Fort Worth, not Dallas. And incidentally, the Texas Motorplex _ home to NHRA Championship Drag Racing in these here parts _ is located in Ennis, not Dallas. But I really can’t disagree with you on Helio.