INDIANAPOLIS — Marco Andretti stood in his garage in the days leading up to the Indianapolis 500, quietly recalling with disappointment how he had led many laps in the race but never the final one.
He led 20 more laps on Sunday. He still hasn’t led the right one.
Andretti’s bid to exorcise his family’s infamous curse at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came up short when he was passed by Ryan Hunter-Reay with 17 laps remaining, and then couldn’t get within striking distance of his teammate during the frantic final laps.
Andretti finished third behind Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves, who waged a dramatic duel after a red flag came out for a wreck with 10 laps left in the second-closest finish in history.
“I wanted him to get up there and if he can pass him, do it,” said Michael Andretti, Marco’s father and team owner. “But I knew there were a few times he tried to get up there and his car didn’t have the speed and down-force there, and that was difference between Ryan’s car and his.”
Marco Andretti, who quietly disappeared after climbing out of his car, has now led 141 laps in the Indy 500, fifth-most among drivers who have never won. His father tops that dubious list.
“Since ‘69 as a family we’ve had zero wins,” Marco Andretti said this week. “We’ve been knocking on the door and that’s what fuels us and gets us up and ready to give it another shot.”
The only time the Andretti name adorned a car that pulled into Victory Lane was 1969, when Marco’s grandfather Mario was in the driver’s seat. Michael was poised to win several times over the years, only for fuel pumps and punctured tires and Lady Luck to spoil his chances.
“He ran so strong for so many races and never found his way,” Hunter-Reay said.
That’s starting to become the story of his son.
Marco Andretti finished second as a rookie at the Brickyard in 2006, beaten to the line by 0.0635 seconds by Sam Hornish Jr. — with his father close behind. And he was fourth last year, his car dominant in long stretches of the race only to falter in the waning laps.
This time, Andretti went to the front on lap 182 when he went around Hunter-Reay on the top side of Turn 3. But his car just didn’t seem to have the same power as that of his teammate, and Hunter-Reay went back around Andretti the next lap in the short chute between Turns 3 and 4.
“Marco and I went really close there going into Turn 3, but I knew we respected each other a lot on the track,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was good, close racing.”
From there, Andretti had the best seat to watch Hunter-Reay and Castroneves.
“I knew at that point that, you know, if we were going to win it, it was most likely going to be with Ryan,” Michael Andretti said. “I could tell (Marco) was really upset.”
It made for a somewhat awkward celebration for Andretti Autosport, or at least the man who has built it into a racing empire. On one hand, Hunter-Reay won during a dominant day for the entire team. On the other, his family name is still chasing the checkered.
“As a dad, disappointing,” Michael Andretti said. “As a team owner, couldn’t be happier.”