ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - Preparations for the IndyCar Series opener began with a silly spat between the two top organizations over a perceived slight made by the president of Team Penske.
The dig - Tim Cindric compared Penske to the New York Yankees and Target/Chip Ganassi Racing to the Miami Marlins - irritated the Ganassi camp and created some drama heading into the race Sunday.
When the checkered flag waived, it was Penske driver Will Power in the winner’s circle. With teammate Helio Castroneves finishing third, Team Penske drivers claimed two spots on the podium and fired the opening salvo in the rivalry.
“I’ve only heard a little bit of that story, so I haven’t paid much attention,” Power said. “Are the Marlins good? Do they win?”
Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon, the defending series champion, finished fourth and Tony Kanaan was sixth in his debut for the team.
So with Verizon-sponsored driver Power on top of the podium in the first race with Verizon on board as the series sponsor, and Castroneves on the podium with him, round one easily went to Team Penske.
“We don’t want to give an inch this year,” said Castroneves, who lost the championship to Dixon last season. “We don’t want to give any opportunity. We want to give the championship to Roger no matter what it takes.”
Ganassi has won five of the last six championships, and Penske last won in 2006.
It was fitting that the win went to Power, who picked up right where he left off last season. He won three of the final five IndyCar races last season - including the last two - and his Sunday win at St. Pete gives the Australian four out of the last six victories.
Power passed pole-sitter Takuma Sato for the lead with an outside move headed into the second turn on Lap 31, and was never really challenged again. He had to beat Castroneves off pit lane during stops under caution, and the only hiccup was on the first restart of the race.
He was the leader and was slow to restart the field with 28 laps remaining. It caused traffic to stack-up behind him and led to a crash involving rookie Jack Hawksworth and Marco Andretti.
Andretti got out of his car with a limp and was favoring his wrist following the accident.
“It’s hard to see because I was pretty far back, but Will just stopped. Once you go, you gotta go,” he said. “It looked like an accordion effect. I had a good restart going, but we were junk all day, so what are you going to do?”
Hawksworth blamed the accident on the leaders stopping at the front of the field.
“We went when they said green, and all of a sudden the leaders stopped. I don’t know what was going on at the front,” the rookie said.