For years, there has been a pall over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Andretti family. Since patriarch Mario won the 1969 Indianapolis 500, no member of the family has ever made it back to victory lane as a driver.
On Sunday, his grandson Marco added another year to the drought.
For those who aren't aware, Mario suffered numerous failures or rotten luck to eliminate him from subsequent editions of the event for the next 20 years, leading to the establishment of the term "Andretti curse." Perhaps the worst instance came in 1987, when a broken valve spring eliminated him from a large lead with 20 laps to go. All told, Mario only finished all 500 miles five times.
Sons Michael and Jeff inherited their father's poor luck. Michael saw a win slip away in 1992 after his car quit in the final laps of the race, while Jeff suffered a major incident that same year that effectively ended his career. Michael managed two third-place finishes, and two wins as an owner, but never won as a driver.
Marco, son of Michael, has carried on the family name in IndyCar racing for his father's team since 2006. That year, he was leading the race on the final straightaway, with father Michael in third, before Sam Hornish Jr. nipped him at the finish line by .06 seconds. Today, Marco started fourth, and felt as confident as ever in his No. 26 car.
The early stages of the race suggested that the young Andretti would have something for the rest of the field. He took the lead for the first time on lap 23 and led until the first set of pit stops, re-inheriting the point when the lead cycled back through the field. All told, Andretti's 59 laps led would be the most of any driver.
But Andretti pit during the third caution, handing the lead to Scott Dixon, and would not reach the front again.
Though his Chevrolet could cut through traffic and pass other cars, partially aided by the slipstreaming strategy that the Dallara DW12 chassis utilized so well all day, Andretti and the other Chevrolet teams were at a marked disadvantage in fuel mileage, frequently pitting before their Honda rivals.
The race started to come apart for Andretti in the late stages. He began screaming over the radio at strategist Kyle Moyer, complaining of a major vibration in the rear of the car that ABC on-board cameras clearly picked up. During the fifth caution, Andretti pit multiple times to add more downforce and fuel to the car, hoping that he could move up from the tail end of the lead lap.
His race wouldn't last much longer.
On lap 188, Andretti became the second driver in eight laps to touch the white line on the pavement with his left side tires. He managed to correct the steering wheel enough not to spin the car, but it still shot up into the outside retaining wall, flattening the right sidepod, totaling the suspension on both right side wheels and ending his day.
A race that had started with so much promise ended with a 24th-place finish.
Granted, Andretti's lack of patience left a lot to be desired in the latter stages of the event. He didn't deal well with an adjusting car and lost his composure when his equipment and strategy began to sour. But in the end it was driver error that took Andretti out of today's race, not mechanical error, which so frequently befell his family members in the past.
Perhaps the Andretti curse has evolved from poor luck to impatience.
Andretti will no doubt be back next year. He'll desperately try to end four decades of family futility at the track that means more to them than anywhere else. But if he wants to do it, he'll need to mature more in the cockpit—or risk never making it to victory lane.