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'Confident' Andretti runs for Indy 500 glory

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Indianapolis 500

Green flag: Noon Sunday
TV: ABC

Follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Is this the year family 'curse' is broken?

Sunday, May 26, 2013 - 12:47 am

INDIANAPOLIS -- Marco Andretti didn't do it. He didn't go all diva on the security official who didn't know the identity of the swift-moving intruder. Andretti just wanted to run, get in some quality fitness time in the serenity that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway golf course while tuning up for today's Indy 500.

Andretti could have thrown around the weight of his family name and seen if it could have convinced the official to bend, if not break, the rules.

Andretti couldn't do it.

“(The official) goes, you're going to get hit by a ball. You're not supposed to be out here.

“I'm like the last person to say, do you know who I am? I'm trying to work my way around that.”

It didn't work.

“So he kicked me off the golf course. But I love running out there. It's so beautiful.”

Fitness is important to Andretti. He often runs five to seven miles a day. Occasionally at his home outside of Nazareth, Pa., he'll run as much as 14 miles in a day.

That doesn't stop during the hectic two weeks of Indy 500 practice. He'll often go on runs, even if time is limited. For instance, during a recent practice day he wrapped up his work early, jumped out of his car and ran over to the Turn 3 stands, where he watched the cars practice.

It was, he said, something he'd never done before.

“It was pretty cool. It's a different perspective. I'd never seen it from the stands before. You can see small differences in guys' lines. It's all very subtle.”

There's nothing subtle about Andretti's approach for this race. He wants to win and believes this time -- despite the family's bad-luck legacy here -- it could happen.

“I'm as confident as ever. It's a quiet confidence. I'm not going to be one to brag … ever. But I think as far as everything in our hands, in our control, it's going in the right direction. We're right where we need to be with the car, the crew, myself.

“Going forward there could be elements that could take us out of it. I'll leave the rest of that to the man upstairs.”

“Elements” is a code word for the legendary curse surrounding the Andretti family regarding the Indy 500. Myth has it that it started when Andretti's grandfather, Mario, was kissed on the cheek by car owner Andy Granatelli after his 1969 victory.

Science, of course, tells us that there is no curse. That's for the King Tut obsessed, for those who live on the fringe of logic.

Yes, Mario Andretti was winless in his final 24 Indy 500s after that 1969 victory. Sure, Michael Andretti was 0-for-16 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with 431 laps led, the most ever by a non-winner. Overall five Andrettis have combined for 80 Speedway starts with just that one win.

Marco is 0-for-7, although he nearly won as a 19-year-old rookie before Sam Hornish Jr. edged him with a furious finish in 2006. He has that one second-place finish, plus two thirds to highlight his Speedway experience.

"When you are out front leading this race you are always thinking about it (the curse)," Marco Andretti said. "You just hope there is not an element that is going to take you out of it.

"We never really address it as a curse, but there have been plenty of dinner conversations talking about how it just slipped away from all three of us."

In many ways, Andretti has never been so prepared to win the Indy 500. He is second in the driver standings behind Takuma Sato. He will start third, his best Indy 500 start ever.

And yet, there remains the thought -- what could go wrong this time?

“I have been losing sleep over a final restart or circumstances that could happen. We have to play it out.”

Andretti is 26 years old and lives in a mansion more suited to Donald Trump. It is 12,000-square feet and $3.4 million of Italian villa extravagance in a picturesque 12-acres overlooking Nazareth, Pa. There are nine golf holes, a tennis court and a six-car garage.

If that sounds like the excess of youthful wealth, well, Andretti has also tapped into a more mature resolve. He spent more off-season time in the shop and with a driving coach, and worked extra with his engineer. He's gotten fitter.

Plus, as Andretti Autosports teammate James Hinchcliffe has said, Andretti “gets Indy better than most.”

Andretti has won twice in 118 IndyCar starts. His first victory, coming in California at age 19, made him the youngest driver to ever win an IndyCar race, although Graham Rahal later won at a younger age.

Last year's career-worst 15th place finish in the driver standings has motivated him. So has the fact Hinchcliffe and fellow teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay have won races this season.

Andretti is considered a favorite along with three-time winners Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti, 2008 winner Scott Dixon, rookie Carlos Munoz and Hinchcliffe. In fact as many as 10 drivers have a chance, including pole winner Ed Carpenter.

But no one burns as much as Andretti.

"I've never wanted something so bad in my life. Nobody could more pressure on me than I am already putting on myself.”