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Curses again, is it finally Marco Andretti's turn?

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Indy 500 favorite eyes late-race strategy

Sunday, May 25, 2014 - 7:06 am

INDIANAPOLIS -- Of course it came up. How could it not? This is the Indianapolis 500, and when your name is Andretti, all sorts of ominous auto racing myths surface.

The Andretti curse has assumed violate-King-Tut's-tomb status. It is the elephant in every Indianapolis Motor Speedway room whenever an Andretti enters it.

Now it is 27-year-old Marco who bears the burden, and if he's no longer the rookie who nearly won here as a teenager back in 2006 (losing to San Hornish Jr in less than a blink of an eye), he's well versed in the family misery history.

Grandfather Mario's 1969 victory remains the only one on the family resume. Mario was winless in his last 24 Indy 500s, although he was a major contender in nearly every one. Marco's father, Michael, was 0-for-16 at the Speedway, and his 431 laps led remain the most ever by a winner. Marco is 0-for-8 in Indianapolis, although he has four top-five finishes.

Overall, five Andrettis have combined for 81 Speedway starts with just that one victory.

For the record, myth says the curse started in 1969, when Mario was kissed on the cheek by car owner Andy Granatelli after the race.

Mention the curse and Marco deflects it with talk of having “nightmares” about late-race strategy. Do you push for the lead and hope the fuel lasts and perhaps a caution comes to your benefit (Tony Kanaan won last year under a caution after a late crash by Dario Franchitti)? Do you hold back and wait for a dramatic pass (passing has never been easier -- last year there were a record 68 lead changes)?

“In the past it was two, and at the max three players at the end of a race,” Andretti says. “Now it's five or six with the element of yellows involved. That was always the case, but last year the whole approach was, do you want to be up front? Well, you always want to be first, but more important, you don't want to fall below third or fourth. Where do you want to be in the closing laps? Last year I thought we were in ideal position and it ended up biting us.”

Andretti was positioned to retake the lead late until Franchitti's accident in the final two laps meant the race ended in a caution, when passing is not allowed, thus allowing Kanaan to hang on. Andretti finished fourth.

“This year, do you want to lead, and have a restart with four guys going to pass you?” Andretti says. “That's been the reoccurring nightmare for me. All I can do is try to be in control, make the best of what we have in our control. Hope it's in the cards.”

For today's race Andretti ranks as the 5-1 favorite, if you believe World Features Syndicate. Next is three-time champ Helio Castroneves, at 6-1.

For Andretti, winning is as much about luck as it is talent and equipment.

“That shows the competition of IndyCar racing. Not that it wasn't competitive back then. The top guy now is as good as the top guy then, but there are just more of them. There are more players at the end of a race. It's a little bit of a crapshoot.

“I have no idea where I should be in the closing laps. My grandfather says just go lead, but we can't be using too much fuel. We just have to have a balance.”