Andretti teammates see signs they can win Indy
The current Andretti Green Racing lineup is 0-for-27 in the Indy 500. They see signs they can end that jinx this year, writes Terry Blount.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Andretti Green Racing was good enough to qualify all five of its drivers in the first four rows for the Indy 500.
Now the big question: Can one of them finally win the Brickyard's historic race?
Of course they can. We're talking about some big names -- former IndyCar Series champ Tony Kanaan, former CART champion Michael Andretti, last year's near-winner Marco Andretti, open-wheel veteran Dario Franchitti and fan favorite Danica Patrick.
All of them have seen some good days at Indy, just not great days. This AGR Fab Five is a combined 0-for-27 in the Indy 500.
Team owner/driver Michael Andretti leads the pity party, having failed to take the checkered flag in 15 starts.
Andretti quite possibly is the best driver never to win here. The Indy 500 for him is the same as the Daytona 500 was for Dale Earnhardt. It took Earnhardt 20 tries to win it after coming close several times.
Andretti knows all about coming close. He finished second once and third twice, including last year when he watched his son continue the jinx.
Marco came a few feet short of winning it as a rookie. Sam Hornish Jr. passed him down the frontstretch on the final lap in one of the best finishes in Indy history.
"It's going to bother me till the end of my career, even if I win this thing four times," Marco said. "I lost the biggest race in the world by just a little bit. My feelings haven't changed since I got out of the car last year."
Like father, like son. Michael finished third in the CART standing his rookie season of 1984, but fell to ninth his second year.
It's been a miserable sophomore season for Marco, but winning Indy would change everything for him and his family.
Marco is starting on the outside of Row 3 next to Patrick. Her first year at AGR hasn't led to success yet, but something about this 2.5-mile rectangle brings out the best in her.
Patrick shocked the racing world when she finished fourth and led late in the race as a rookie two years ago. She had another strong effort last year when she finished eighth.
Patrick left Rahal Letterman Racing because she thought AGR gave her the best chance to earn his first victory. No excuses now, and she knows it.
"I do feel more pressure this year," Patrick said. "As the years go on, you get more impatient. You just want to run up front, and as a result you're going to win races. It's just a matter of time."
Maybe the time is right for Kanaan or Franchitti, the duo who has led the way for AGR in the first four races this season.
Kanaan won in Japan last month and has two other top-5s. Franchitti has three consecutive top-5s, including a second-place finish at Kansas in the last event.
Kanaan (second) and Franchitti (third) earned front-row spots Saturday on Pole Day.
All the AGR drivers believe their team has made huge strides since last season. AGR didn't have a driver finish in the top 5 in the 2006 IndyCar Series standings.
The four full-season drivers accounted for only one pole and two victories while Penske Racing and Target Ganassi Racing dominated the league.
It was a 180 compared to 2005 when AGR won the championship and the Indy 500 with Dan Wheldon, who had six victories that season. Kanaan finished third in the standings in 2005 and Franchitti was fourth.
AGR won 11 of 17 events as Honda's top team, but things changed last year when Toyota left the IRL and all the cars ran Honda engines. AGR lost its advantage. It also lost Wheldon, who went to Chip Ganassi's team.
"We kind of got complacent at the end of '05 with the success we enjoyed," Franchitti said Sunday. "We got caught last year. We really were surprised by the pace of everybody else."
Kanaan said he was miserable last year.
"When you have a team that's been so successful, it's hard," Kanaan said Sunday. "And you have a boss like Michael Andretti that wants to win every race. But we kept our heads together. We kept peace in the team."
The start of the 2007 season was more of the same with Wheldon winning the season-opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Penske veteran Helio Castroneves winning a week later on the St. Petersburg, Fla., street course.
No one panicked. Franchitti said he knew the team was better. Michael and co-owner Kim Green spent the money to take a step forward.
"Full marks to our owners," Franchitti said. "They came up with the money to allow the engineers to do their jobs. It doesn't matter how good your engineers are. If you don't give them the budget to go to the wind tunnel and all the things they need to do, you're not going to make progress."
Placing five drivers in the top 11 and two on the front row is progress at Indy. But is it enough to make one of the winless a winner?
Patrick believes it is. She said all five drivers think they can win on May 27, but none of them would mind if the boss took the top spot.
"If we have to pick somebody to win, we would all raise our hand," Patrick said. "But if there's someone we want to do it, it's Mike. I'm not a history buff, but I know how many times he's led here and not won. He's next in line."
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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