Stalled at the Brickyard, racing family tries again
INDIANAPOLIS - Marco Andretti knows how much heartache his family has suffered at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He needs no reminders that IndyCar could use an American superstar, and with his famous last name, he is quite aware of the hope that maybe he can be the one to elevate this attention-starved series. None of that matters to Andretti as he heads into the Indianapolis 500. He believes he can win today's race — "It's going to be our race to lose," he said — and he wants it, badly. But Andretti wants it for himself, for his own career, and not because of what it would mean to his family or for IndyCar. Mario Andretti won in 1969, and no Andretti has done it again in 65 starts and many of those races were devastating near-misses. "That's not my approach to the event. My approach is I want to win our Super Bowl," Andretti said. "I put that pressure on myself. I don't want to do it because he did it and my dad didn't, that's all bonus. Do I think we can? You're darn right."The 96th running of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" is the most wide-open race in a very long time. Engine competition for the first time in six years and the introduction of a new car has widened the pool of potential winners, and there's no clear favorite. "I think we're going to see the best race we've had in at least a decade," said Roger Penske, winner of 15 Indy 500s and the team owner of pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe. Penske is undefeated this season, as Helio Castroneves and points leader Will Power have combined to win the first four races. And with Chevrolet power, Penske drivers have swept all five poles so far this season. So it seemed to be business as usual on pole day, when Chevrolet clearly had the edge. The team put nine drivers inside the top 10, and all six of the full-time entries were from Penske and Andretti Autosport. Then came Carb Day, and the Hondas came to life. Chip Ganassi teammates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon led the leaderboard, with Andretti landing third on the final speed chart as the fastest Chevy driver. "Maybe some sandbagging?" Franchitti wondered as Andretti slid into the seat next to him following their final on-track session before the race. "Do you really think we're all going to show what we can do?" The return of Chevrolet and addition to Lotus has renewed rivalries this season in IndyCar, and the fight between Chevy and Honda has been on display since the track opened May 9. Chevy lost two appeals in its fight to prevent Honda from getting a new compressor cover for its turbocharger, and the final decision came the day before practice officially opened. Honda then dominated on the track, particularly Josef Newgarden and Bryan Clauson, the two young American drivers for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. But there was skepticism that the Chevy teams were simply holding back, and that sure seemed to be the case after qualifying. There's been no speculation whatsoever about the two Lotus entries, which have been so far off the pace there have been calls for IndyCar to park Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi after the start. Meanwhile, Andretti has been one of the few constants this month at Indy. He's been consistently fast, and was thought to be a threat for the pole. He wound up fourth, right behind teammates James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay. IndyCar is seeking a new star now that Danica Patrick has fled to NASCAR and will miss her first Indy 500 since 2005. She was the de facto face of the series, and IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard knows he needs somebody else to step up and fill her void. He knows that an Andretti win would be a very good thing for the series. "Wherever you go in the world, Andretti is known in racing," he said. "This is Marco's stance. I've never seen him so confident. It's like a new Marco to me."