Penske and Ganassi prepare for another close finish

Two of the most important car owners in the IZOD IndyCar Series, Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi, sat beside each other Saturday afternoon to discuss the rivalry between their teams as the IndyCar season heads toward its finish.

Penske's Will Power and Ganassi's Dario Franchitti are locked in another tight points battle.

Franchitti has the 26 point lead going in to Sunday's Baltimore Grand Prix, but Penske said that might be the key to Power winning the title.

"We've had the lead in the past two seasons and lost both of them," he said. "Now we're the one behind, who has to close. Maybe we're in the perfect spot."

Between the two organizations there are 20 IndyCar titles, 246 wins and 274 pole positions. For a while Saturday, they sounded like the best of friends. Ganassi said, "Roger is the guy who has made it possible for a guy like me to come along." And Penske admired Ganassi for his steadfastness and ability to get the job done.

"It's been a real see-saw battle between us," Penske said. "He knows how to close the deal and we haven't. I appreciate the competition. But what I really appreciate is that we're locked in to making the sport great."

They are, but there is no denying their competitive natures.

"I watch his every move," said Penske. "If he runs over a hose, I'm right there to look at it. When he goes to talk to an official, even though I've heard it all before, I'm there. But after the race, when we win, he's the first to send us a congratulatory message."

Ganassi nodded.

"Yeah," he said. "We have IndyCar racing because of him. The longer I'm in the business, I understand that. But I do want to kick his [butt]."

Hinchcliffe, Patrick struggle

While the majority of drivers seemed to find the Baltimore Grand Prix course challenging but fair, it was a disappointing day for two of the bigger names in the IndyCar series. James Hinchcliffe, who is vying for Rookie of the Year honors, finished a surprising 17th in qualifying. And Danica Patrick, who will be leaving the IndyCar series for NASCAR at the end of the year, finished 23rd.

Hinchcliffe, who has six top-10 finishes this year, seemed baffled over his times.

"It was pretty embarrassing, to be honest," Hinchcliffe said. "The struggle is, I've got no real reason why we aren't starting higher. It's not that we got the setup completely wrong and missed the balance. It's not that I was making a lot of mistakes. The speed just wasn't there. It's kind of mystifying. We certainly put ourselves in position for a long afternoon tomorrow."

Patrick, who continues to be one of the sport's biggest stars despite mediocre results, seemed similarly disappointed.

"We're really frustrated with our qualifying time," Patrick said. "The track has some good passing opportunities, but there are also a lot of tight areas. Tomorrow's race is going to be a lot of work, but I'm hoping we can move the car through the field and have a better result than our qualifying time shows."

Bittersweet for Bunting

Baltimore native Marc Bunting didn't exactly have the finish he was hoping for Saturday in the American Le Mans Series portion of the Baltimore Grand Prix. He and co-driver Dion von Moltke finished fifth in the GTC class, and 23rd overall. But the fact that he was racing in his hometown — something he's been dreaming about for years — made the results secondary.

"It was great, and everyone I've met seemed to have a great experience," said Bunting, who has been racing on a national level since 1999. "I've talked to a ton of people who had never been to a sports car race, and they seemed to rave about it. So from that perspective, I think the Grand Prix pulled off a great event. I knew it would be a big event, but I was really impressed with the number of people Friday and [Saturday]."

In an effort to promote racing in the area prior to the Grand Prix, Bunting teamed up this summer with some local businesses to create The Baltimore Racing Group, and he hopes it will continue to grow as long as racing returns to Baltimore.

"We had a lot of local support and local sponsors, so I'm really glad we did it," Bunting said. "Hopefully we'll be back next year with a little better finish."

Andretti's crab shack

Kathy Metalios read the recent story about Mario Andretti coming to Baltimore for crabs to celebrate victories. Andretti couldn't remember the name of the crab house, but Metalios does.

It was Duffy's on Frederick Road.

"My husband's uncle was Jimmy Parthemos," Metalios said in an email. "He was the one who owned Duffy's. I remember he called us one night and told us that Mario had called him from his plane and was coming to eat crabs. He asked if we wanted to come meet him. We drove over from Parkville and met him that night."

Ribbs is in

Willy T. Ribbs didn't run a lap in the Firestone Indy Lights qualifying Saturday. But he'll start Sunday's race in the 16th position, last in the field. The team made the decision not to run qualifying due to the conditions following a brief rain delay. Chief Steward Tony Cotman made the decision that Ribbs was still qualified to start in the field.