Commentary

Marco unable to shake Andretti curse on Pole Day

Marco Andretti started qualifying as the man to beat for the Indy 500 pole. He finished Pole Day as just another Andretti frustrated by what Indianapolis Motor Speedway brought him, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: May 10, 2008, 9:44 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Marco AndrettiGavin Lawrence/Getty ImagesMarco Andretti ran a lap over 228 mph in practice Saturday. He didn't come close in qualifying.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Marco Andretti went from the fastest lap of the month Saturday morning to a qualifying bust Saturday afternoon.

Andretti qualified a disappointing seventh on Indy 500 Pole Day, placing him on the inside of Row 3 for the 92nd running of the race (ABC, May 25).

"It doesn't matter where you start in this race," he said. "As long as we're in, we're happy."

Not true. Marco was not happy. The anger practically dripped off him like sweat in a sauna. He couldn't hide it. He expected better.

His blistering 228.318 mph clocking in the morning practice was more than a mile per hour faster than any other driver on the track.

It looked like an Andretti might start on the point at Indy for the first time in 22 years when grandpa Mario won his third Indy pole.

One problem. Marco forgot to factor in that Andretti jinx thing. At the tender age of 21, he knows all about it. But this time it caught the third-generation racer completely off guard.

Andretti had ranked first or second on the speed charts all week. He was the racer to beat for the top spot, but he dropped off more than any other driver when qualifying started.

It didn't take long to find out things had changed. Andretti was the third driver to make an attempt, but he was second of those three, more than six-tenths of a mile per hour slower than Ryan Briscoe's four-lap average of 224.833 mph.

One driver later, Marco was third of four as Scott Dixon went to the top of the leaderboard at 225.178 mph. Dixon would win the pole later with his second attempt, posting a 226.366-mph average to edge Target Ganassi Racing teammate Dan Wheldon.

Thirty minutes into the qualifying session, Andretti wasn't even the fastest driver on his team. He ended up third of the four Andretti Green Racing drivers.

[+] EnlargeMario Andretti
AP PhotoMario Andretti, Marco's grandfather, is the only man in the family to win at Indy, and that was nearly 40 years ago.

AGR teammate Danica Patrick was briefly on the pole with a qualifying average of 225.197 mph. Patrick will start in the middle of Row 2. AGR veteran Tony Kanaan will start next to Patrick on the outside of the second row.

Andretti clearly was surprised that his first four-lap average of 224.162 mph wasn't good enough for the first two rows. At that point, he thought it was a fluke.

"You haven't seen the last of me today for sure," Andretti said after his first attempt. "We have to step back and see where we lost the speed. I definitely think we're quicker than that. We'll see."

What we saw was a minimal improvement when Andretti made his second attempt at 4:30 p.m. He moved up one spot with an average speed of 224.417 mph.

"I was lifting on every turn of every lap," Andretti said of his second attempt. "We definitely lost the balance from this morning until now with how track conditions changed."

Team owner Michael Andretti had no answers for his son. "There's not a lot I can really tell him," Michael said.

Just another one of those days for the Andrettis at Indy.

Marco needs no history lesson on the Indy frustrations of his father and grandfather. Michael came close several times, but was winless in 16 Indy 500 starts.

The only victory for the Andretti family was Mario's win in 1969, although he could have won three or four other times if the breaks had gone his way.

"I don't even think about that," Marco said of the Andretti woes at Indy. "Yes, my family's had a lot of bad luck at this place.

Marco Andretti

I don't even think about that. Yes, my family's had a lot of bad luck at this place. I don't want to win here because [my] grandfather did it. My rookie year was taken away from me. I want to win because of that. I want to win this race for myself.

-- Marco Andretti

"I don't want to win here because [my] grandfather did it. My rookie year was taken away from me. I want to win because of that. I want to win this race for myself."

Andretti came within about 200 yards of ending the Andretti jinx in his first Indy 500 start two years ago, but watched Sam Hornish Jr. slingshot by him and win it by 0.0635 of a second.

Saturday was another disappointment for the Andretti clan, but this one really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. Marco can win the 2008 Indy 500 just as easily from the third row as he can from the first.

"I'm disappointed today because I was slow, but not because my family should have done better," he said. "From here on out, we'll work on our race setup and do what we came here to do."

Andretti has two top-5s this season on fast ovals, and he's seventh in the IndyCar Series season standings. That doesn't matter to him at the moment.

"Indianapolis is a championship of its own," Andretti said. "I want to win this race. There is no confidence lost."

Spoken like a true Andretti. He won't let Indy beat him, regardless of his family's past. Four decades is long enough.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter