Entering Sunday's Indianapolis 500, Marco Andretti said he was confident. Really confident.
He qualified fourth and had one of the fastest cars consistently throughout the two weeks of Indianapolis 500 preparations. Two very good reasons for that confidence. He was so confident that on Friday he said that he felt it was his team's race to lose.
Unfortunately for the Andretti family, "race" and "lose" have been associated all too often with the Indianapolis 500 since 1969, the only year that Mario Andretti, Marco's grandfather, won the famed race.
On Sunday, Marco was looking like a soothsayer. He cruised to the lead shortly after the drop of the green flag and stayed there for the first half of the race, leading a race-high 59 laps. At the midpoint of the race, a caution flag flew for Ana Beatriz's crash just a few laps after Andretti had made a green-flag pit stop. His team called him into the pits again. Andretti never got back to the front of the field.
Racing for eighth place with 12 laps to go, Andretti made a move to the inside of Turn 1 and his left-side tires got under the white line, sending his car careening into the outside wall between Turns 1 and 2. The race had officially been lost. The Andretti curse continued.
In all honesty, it was probably over after that yellow-flag pit stop, which put Andretti and his Chevrolet back in traffic after many cars in the top 10 stayed out. (Hondas were getting consistently better fuel mileage than the Chevys all afternoon.)
Marco, who has never been monotone on his in-car radio, was unhappy with the decision to pit. After pitting under green on his next stop, claiming that his tires were down to the cords, Andretti was caught a lap down after the yellow flag flew for Sebastian Saavedra just a lap after his pit stop. While Andretti got back on the lead lap as pit stops cycled through under caution, he was back in 17th place with 48 laps to go.
Since 1969, Mario, Michael or Marco Andretti have a combined 47 Indianapolis 500 starts, all without a win. The race at the Brickyard has cruelly teased the Andretti family over those 40 years in myriad ways — they've DNFed 29 times.
In 1992, Michael Andretti saw his fuel pressure go away while leading with 11 laps to go. Michael led 160 of the 189 laps he completed that day, but the battle for the win was decided by Al Unser Jr. and Scott Goodyear.
The year before, Michael led 97 laps. He finished second.
In 1987, Mario started on the pole and dominated, leading 170 laps. But ignition issues sidelined him with 20 laps to go. Yes, he led all but 10 of the laps he completed.
In 2006, Marco added his chapter to the Andretti struggles. After not leading all day, he found himself at the front as the white flag waved with Sam Hornish Jr. in hot pursuit. Hornish, perhaps learning from Goodyear's failed attempt 14 years earlier, slingshotted around Andretti as the two cars barreled out of Turn 4 on the final lap and crossed the finish line first.
After that 29th DNF on Sunday, the curse still lingers. And the question does too: Will next year be the year the book is closed on the Andrettis' winless streak at Indy? Or will another chapter be written?
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