Column: The Andretti Curse lives on at Brickyard

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Winning the race?

That’s an entirely different story.

On pit road afterward, Marco’s eyes were moist. He dabbed at his nose with a tissue. Sure, he’s now leading the IndyCar standings after five races, having finished no lower than seventh in any of them.

That’s not what drives him. Not at all.

He wants his face on that Borg-Warner Trophy.

“Consistency is great, but Indy is a championship in itself,” he said. “It’s good to be leading the overall points, but it came down to the last couple of laps shootout. I think if it would have stayed green, we would have been in a prime position. But it’s the way the cards fell today.”

Boy, does that sound familiar.

Mario won the 500 in 1969 and spent the rest of his long, brilliant career trying futilely to do it again. Even though he led a total of 556 laps over 29 starts _ third-most behind four-time winner Al Unser and Ralph DePalma _ Andretti never got another taste of milk. Sadly, the most common words at Indy turned out to be, “Mario is slowing down.”

Then along came son Michael, a championship driver in his own right. Except at Indy, where he led in nine races for a total of 431 laps without ever winning the 500. No driver has come close to setting the pace for so many laps without actually finishing ahead of everyone else. Sometimes, Michael was doomed by a mechanical failure beyond his control. Other times, he made an inexplicable mistake that cost him the race.

Even though Michael has won twice as a car owner _ with Franchitti and the late Dan Wheldon _ it’s clear the family won’t be redeemed until one of their own gets back to that place where Mario stood 44 long years ago.

Which brings us to Marco, who now carries that burden.

Given his youth, he’s got plenty of time to reach the goal that’s been there essentially since the day he was born. Much like his father and grandfather, he’s becoming quite an all-around driver, working hard during the offseason to improve his road racing skills, which is why he’s leading the standings after the first four races were held on road and street courses.

But with each excruciating Indy setback, you have to wonder if he’ll start believing his family is truly jinxed. You have to wonder if he’ll ever reach his full potential.

As a 19-year-old rookie in 2006, Marco was passed on the last straightaway by Sam Hornish Jr., losing by less than a half-second in the second-closest finish in Indy 500 history. The next year, the youngster was knocked out by a collision while contending for the lead late in the race. In 2008, he led 35 laps on the way to a third-place showing, and there was another third-place finish in 2010.

Last year, Marco led a race-high 59 laps before striking the wall with 13 laps to go.

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