Andretti heads into Indy 500 trying to shake curse

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“I think he’s going to have a breakout year and I hate to admit it, but this one might be his. This guy gets Indy better than most.”

His grandfather sees it, too, in the 26-year-old standard bearer.

“He just loves this joint,” Mario Andretti said. “He knows his way around here, and he has excellent race craft here.”

Andretti doesn’t harp on the offseason work he put into his career, which came at the end of a season in which Hunter-Reay won his first championship and Hinchcliffe had a breakout year in his first season with Andretti Autosport. The namesake, meanwhile, finished a career-worst 15th in the standings.

So he worked with a driving coach, studied his weaknesses and recommitted himself to his career. It’s no coincidence he now admits racing simply wasn’t fun for him last year.

All that work has helped him to this strong start, and helped him recapture his love of racing.

But four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti, who has known Andretti since he was a kid and was his teammate in 2006, said the joy everyone sees now comes from running well on the track _ something Andretti has worked hard for.

Marco has really calmed down. He just seems a lot more focused, but I don’t want to use that word because that would be a disservice to what he’s done before,” Franchitti said. “But I think he’s got his priorities straight. He’s got all the talent in the world, he just needed to get it funneled. And he seems to have done that.”

And Franchitti notes that Andretti races with a pressure no one else in IndyCar can understand.

Marco has something that none of us have _ he’s got to live up to his name,” Franchitti said. “He’s not his grandfather, and he’s not his father, and a lot of fans will never forgive him for that. They are savage about him, and they were the same with Michael because Michael wasn’t Mario. And so even when Marco does something well, Marco can never do anything right. And that’s not his fault.”

His birthright can also be a burden, but one that gave him a magical childhood of hanging around the old speedway motel, listening to announcer Tom Carnegie, watching everything he could on closed circuit TV as he figured out ways to sneak into the garage at the historic race track.

So it’s difficult sometimes to keep from daydreaming about kissing The Yard of Bricks, dousing himself in milk and celebrating with his family.

“I have to stop myself from thinking what it would be like,” Andretti said. “But I think it would be all of our misfortunes, it would be so bittersweet that it would all come out with one victory. I think it would be so emotional for the family. That one victory is going to make up for a lot of things. God willing. That would be awesome.”

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