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Andretti hopes to end ‘curse’ at Indianapolis

Marco Andretti will start in the front row in the Indy 500 for the first time. (Associated Press)
Marco Andretti will start in the front row in the Indy 500 for the first time. (Associated Press)

INDIANAPOLIS – Shortly before he left home for Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Marco Andretti watched a documentary that showed his grandfather, Mario, at the famed track.

“It was him and (radio announcer) Paul Page, they were walking down the start finish line and he said, ‘You know, I always said I hated this place,’ ” Andretti recalled. “And then he paused for a while and said, ‘I lied.’ That pretty much tells it all. We’ve been through a lot here, but we live for it.”

Five different drivers from the famed Andretti clan have combined to make 80 starts in the Indianapolis 500. Mario Andretti’s 1969 victory remains the lone win and the family has been answering questions about the “Andretti Curse” for decades now.

It was Michael Andretti who had it the worst, leading 431 laps in 16 career starts and never getting a chance to drink the celebratory milk.

But it’s not been any easier for Marco, the third-generation driver who has suffered his own share of heartache at Indy. He was passed by Sam Hornish Jr. on the final straightaway in 2006, when he raced as a 19-year-old rookie with his father in the field. Hornish won the race, and Marco and Michael finished second and third.

He believes he gave away the 2008 race, which was won by Scott Dixon while Andretti finished third. There was another third-place finish in 2010, and then he went into last year’s race convinced it was “mine to lose.”

“And we lost it,” he said Thursday with a shrug.

Upset with his car all day, even as he led a race-high 59 laps, an ill-timed caution shuffled Andretti back into the field after a pit stop. He was struggling with his handling, and crashed out of the race 13 laps from the finish.

So the curse has been passed down, even as Andretti does his best to put his own positive spin on the suffering.

“I believe that as a family, having one win in 70-something tries, that’s frustrating as competitors,” he said. “But I think we’re blessed as a family because we are all healthy. And I am still young, knock on wood, and I’ll have a lot of shots at this race. So I’m blessed because we are able to compete. I love this place and it’s an honor to be able to compete.”

He then paused before continuing, “But we want to win, dammit.”

Andretti has another shot on Sunday when he starts third, on the front row for the first time in his career. Andretti is off to the best start of his career after a focused offseason of figuring out what he needed to do to be better.

The results are two podium finishes so far this year and he heads into the Indy 500 ranked second in the IndyCar standings.