Commentary

No love lost between Andretti Green Racing and Ganassi

Tough guy Chip Ganassi is no teddy bear, but he could probably use a hug after Sunday's "classless act" by rival owners Michael Andretti and Kevin Savoree at the Detroit Grand Prix, writes Bruce Martin.

Updated: September 4, 2007, 3:43 PM ET
By Bruce Martin | Special to ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Chip Ganassi is about as lovable as a punch in the face or a nasty case of acid reflux.

Catch Ganassi at a bad time and he'll go out of his way to be a wise guy in an attempt to embarrass the person for asking what he thinks is a smart-ass question.

Let's face it, he's like the kid in high school who always had a way of annoying you the most. He was the one you would love to snap your towel at after gym class.

But Andretti Green Racing team owners Michael Andretti and Kevin Savoree are turning Ganassi into a sympathetic figure.

They confronted Ganassi after Sunday's Detroit Indy Grand Prix at Belle Isle and accused his driver, Scott Dixon, of intentionally backing into Dario Franchitti's path after Dixon spun out on the last lap of Sunday's race.

That enraged Franchitti's team owners, Andretti and Savoree, who claimed Dixon intentionally blocked the track to keep Franchitti from getting past. The two owners charged at Ganassi to voice their displeasure and, according to an eyewitness, Savoree was doing his best to get Ganassi to take a swing at him.

"I think Michael Andretti and Kevin Savoree overreacted to what they saw on television, which happens," said Mike Hull, managing director of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. "What I thought was a classless act was the way they treated Mr. Ganassi. I won't repeat what they said.

"I think they should probably understand that Buddy Rice ran out of fuel and Scott had nowhere to go. They accused Chip that we tried to take Dario out. We don't race like that. It's too bad they react the way they do. I think that's a pretty classless way to act. Kevin Savoree was trying to get Chip to swing at him, but Chip wouldn't bite."

Ganassi defended his driver after he was confronted by the Andretti Green Racing team owners.

"Why would he do that?" Ganassi said. "I don't understand why he would possibly do that. He had two guys in front of him that were running out of gas, OK. ... That's typical of a comment from that team."

Of course, Andretti had a far different viewpoint of what happened.

"Poor sportsmanship is what I saw," Andretti said. "He [Dixon] clearly took Dario out on purpose. He was rolling and going fine and then he saw Dario was going to the outside of him, let off his brake and took Dario out. It was totally on purpose.

"That's not the way to do it. I'm really disappointed in Scott."

Dixon entered the race with a four-point lead over Franchitti in the battle for the IndyCar championship and appeared to be on his way to padding that lead before a bizarre set of circumstances drastically changed the complexion of the race, and perhaps the title chase.

Dixon was cruising along in third place on the last lap behind leader Tony Kanaan and the second-place car driven by Buddy Rice. Dixon was one position ahead of Dario Franchitti and about to add to his four-point lead in the battle for the IndyCar title heading into the final race of the season at Chicagoland Speedway next week.

Rice's car ran out of fuel and slowed down. Dixon, trying to avoid him, went underneath while Rice's car sailed into the tire barrier. Dixon's car then spun right in front of Franchitti, who appeared ready to thread the needle and make it through.

But at the last moment, Dixon's car lazily drifted across the track and blocked Franchitti from getting by.

Andretti is a temperamental former racer who has a reputation for never admitting to a mistake. But Franchitti, the victim of the crash, didn't think there was anything intentional on Dixon's part.

Tony Kanaan
Do I think it was on purpose? Yes. ... He lost the championship lead. He's not sleeping very well this week and I'm coming.

Tony Kanaan

Franchitti was able to keep his engine fired and make it around the course to finish sixth. Dixon was credited with an eighth-place finish, and that was enough of a gap for Franchitti, who led the most laps, to take over the points lead by three points.

"I don't think Scott did anything on purpose," Franchitti said. "He went for a gap when Buddy ran out of fuel, he spun, was going left and going right. I chose the wrong way and he rolled back as I was going that way.

"Sometimes you can't do right for doing wrong."

Once again, Dixon was at the center of controversy; the quiet New Zealander was able to endure last weekend's AGR team tactics at Infineon Raceway and score his fourth victory of the season.

"I can't really say it was unsportsmanlike. I had no control of the car -- it spun out," Dixon said. "It's just unfortunate what happened. ... I tried to get on the inside [of Buddy Rice's car], and it looked like he sped up again, so I tried to brake and he came down a little bit. My rear hit him and then I spun.

"How was it intentional? I was better off; I would have made five points on the guy if I kept going."

Rice, who triggered the amazing end-of-the-race events by running out of fuel, apologized to both Andretti and Ganassi for the incident.

"All I did was run out of fuel," Rice said. "I wasn't trying to change the championship or get involved; I was just trying to get my best finish of the season, and I ran out of fuel.

"I just didn't make it."

Meanwhile, race winner Kanaan finds himself 39 points out of the series lead, in third place.

Asked his opinion of the incident, Kanaan said, "I will never be Dixon, so I'm not going to answer that, especially after all the heat he gave me last weekend -- the same way he didn't believe me when I said what I did last weekend."

Dixon accused Kanaan of using team tactics to protect his teammate Franchitti at Infineon Raceway a week earlier.

"I strongly believe he did it on purpose," Kanaan said of Dixon. "Now, he can say no. We can't prove it. He can say, 'I was crashing and I couldn't reach the brakes, here we go.'

"Do I think it was on purpose? Yes. But you know what, like he always said last weekend, too, what goes around comes around. So here we go. He lost the championship lead. He's not sleeping very well this week and I'm coming."

So, with one week left in the IndyCar season, the soap opera continues, and now it's reached the point that team owners are at each other's throats.

At Infineon, it was Andretti who was upset at Franchitti after he knocked his son, Marco, out of the way after the final pit stop and Marco came out just in front of Franchitti on the racetrack. At that point, Andretti went from being Franchitti's team owner to Marco's "Little League Dad."

Now, the frustration is being directed at fellow Pennsylvanian Ganassi, who hails from Pittsburgh; Andretti is from the eastern burg of Nazareth.

Instead of being a battle of these two natives of the Keystone State, Andretti and Savoree looked more like the Keystone Cops after confronting The Mighty Chip.

At the same time, the Andretti attitude has brought this year's IndyCar title race to a new level of intensity that has made this season far more interesting than the weekly stock-car snore-a-thons.

But who would ever have imagined that it would be possible to make Ganassi a lovable character or a sympathetic figure?

That was before Andretti and Savoree began to carry this chip on their shoulder that they will cart off with another IndyCar title with Franchitti, or fall off like a boulder if Dixon battles back to give Ganassi his second championship.

Either way, somebody please pass the antacid.

Bruce Martin is a freelance contributor to ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE