A win-win for Marco Andretti, IndyCar
NEWTON, Iowa -- Marco Andretti's second career Izod IndyCar Series victory was a long time coming.
And this time he really earned it.
The third-generation star from one of America's most famous racing families broke a 78-race winless streak dating to August 2006 by outdueling Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti to win the Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway.
Andretti seized the lead from Franchitti during the final round of pit stops and exchanged the top spot with Kanaan four times during the frenetic final 50 green-flag laps. Marco moved out front for the final time on Lap 232 of 250 and decisively rebuffed his former Andretti Autosport teammate over the remaining circuits to win by 0.793 of a second.
Scott Dixon finished third, with rookie JR Hildebrand fourth and Franchitti fifth. After leading 172 laps, Franchitti took a 20-point lead in the IndyCar Series championship, because incoming co-leader Will Power crashed and sustained a minor concussion.
But the story was all about the Andrettis -- Marco for getting a big monkey off his back, and father Michael, whose four-car team has come under scrutiny after three relatively unsuccessful years compared to Andretti Autosport's dominant form from 2004-07.
"I'm just so happy and relieved for him," said proud papa Michael Andretti. "There's been a huge monkey on his back, and it was on mine, as well. There was just a lot of pressure on us, him as a driver, me as an owner. So to come back and win like this, it was just a great, great day.
"It was a big win for us for sure," Michael added. "A lot of people were really pounding on us and thought we were down and out, but I can tell you this team has got tons of fight in it and we are never out. We got together and made a few little changes in the team, everybody just rallied and worked their butts off, and here we are. I'm just proud of everybody on this team."
"Relieved" also was the word Marco Andretti repeatedly used to describe the breakthrough victory. Marco's first win, at Infineon Raceway in 2006, was clouded by the suspicion that his then-teammate Bryan Herta intentionally spun to bring out the full-course caution that Andretti needed to stretch his fuel to the finish.
Saturday night's win at Iowa was clear-cut. From 17th on the grid, Andretti drove beautifully through the field, and the only potential point of controversy was the way he aggressively defended the lead from Kanaan during the final laps.
"We've been in a position to win a lot of races but came up short, so I think 'relieved' is the word," Andretti remarked. "I never doubted the team, never doubted myself. I always said as soon as the stars were aligned and a little bit of luck goes my way that we'd be sitting here.
"The drought, so to speak, just made me appreciate what we have here in IndyCar racing," Marco continued. "From the drivers to the teams, it just makes us appreciate being here that much more because we know we beat those guys."
Kanaan certainly wasn't complaining about the way he came out second best, and was full of praise for the young man he mentored for five years as a member of Andretti Autosport.
"You can't say it's a block, and I would have done the same thing to him," Kanaan said. "I'm happy for him. When you win one race, and it takes you another five years to win again, it must be a relief. He did exactly what he needed to do to win the race.
"He was strong all night long, and hopefully it won't take him another five years to win another one."
"We were clean, and if I did anything mean to him, I'm sure he understands it's for the win," Andretti responded. "I wouldn't be belly-aching if he chopped me. It's for first place."
Dixon, who drove superbly to overcome a poor qualifying run that left him 23rd on the grid, also complimented Andretti for his performance.
"Huge credit to Marco," Dixon said. "It was a hell of a race he drove and it's a very deserving win."
"Nobody gave an inch, but it was absolutely clean and Marco did a hell of a job," added Franchitti. "He really deserved that."
The real winner on the night may have been the IndyCar Series, because short of a victory by Danica Patrick (who faded quickly from her front-row starting spot to finish 10th), a win by Andretti is likely to generate the greatest amount of publicity and buzz.
"I think it's going to be a popular win, and I think we need to get him up there winning more than just this one," observed Michael Andretti. "Hopefully Graham Rahal will get up there, too, and get a little rivalry going. I think that sort of thing is always good.
"I know this win is big for us."
For now, Marco Andretti just wants to celebrate taking a truly deserved victory and is focusing on getting the next one. He isn't worried about becoming the poster child for Indy car racing.
"I'm going to be looking to make a habit of this, that's for sure," Marco said. "It definitely gets the monkey off our back a bit because we can quiet a lot of my doubters at the same time.
"It feels so good."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.