PHILADELPHIA — Marco Andretti had already wagered a few bucks with teammate Alexander Rossi on the Super Bowl and then decided to up the ante. Andretti tweeted that if the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots, he’d meet fans at his hometown’s downtown circle.
The Eagles won and Andretti stayed true to his word — he posed for a photo of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, fans dressed in Carson Wentz jerseys and Eagles hoodies and index fingers raised in a No. 1 salute.
“I was surprised, a lot of people showed up,” Andretti said. “It was cool.”
His nerves steeled racing at speeds topping 230 mph, Andretti found some traffic he wasn’t willing to weave through: Thousands of Eagles fans getting rowdy at the Super Bowl parade. Andretti sat out the party where fans chugged stiffer drinks than milk.
“I’m not that crazy,” he said, smiling.
Who knows? Nazareth might throw its own bash should Andretti finally break through and win the Indianapolis 500. Sitting on the rooftop deck of a Philadelphia restaurant just a few blocks off the parade route, Andretti could imagine following the Eagles into sports ultimate winner’s circle.
“A favorite? It’s me. That’s my favorite,” he said.
Andretti, a third-generation driver, starts his 13th Indy 500 driving for a team that knows of late how to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Andretti Autosport won the Indy 500 in 2014 (Ryan Hunter-Reay), 2016 (Rossi) and 2017 (Takuma Sato) making the family wildly more successful at Indy in ownership than it was behind the wheel.
The 31-year-old Andretti believed the time was now to add his name to the list. He’s proud his teammates have had their image etched on the Borg-Warner Trophy and that his father, team owner Michael, has reaped the rewards of those wins and kissed the bricks. But if Andretti Autosport is going to win its third straight Indy 500, Marco is ready to race past his teammates and swig that championship milk.
“It’s a double-edged sword, right? You’re thrilled that the team won but it doesn’t really raise your stock,” Andretti said. “I just go off of how strong I’ve been here in the past. Lot of podiums, lot of laps led. We’re leading the Andretti Autosport train right now, so we’ve got to keep it that way.”
Michael Andretti has five wins overall as a team owner — all since his son’s debut in 2004.
“I feel happy for dad and for them in particular,” Marco said. “But no, it doesn’t feel good to me at all.”
The star-crossed family has fought the so-called Andretti Curse since grandfather Mario Andretti won the 1969 Indy 500. Michael had it the worst, leading 431 laps without a win in 16 career starts. Marco is 0 for 12 with a runner-up finish in 2004 and four podium finishes. He was eighth last year.
Andretti starts 12th from the outside of Row 4 on Sunday in the No. 98 Honda for his dad and Bryan Herta. Andretti Autosport has Andretti, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz, Zach Veach and Stefan Wilson in the 33-car field.
“Lot of my teammates just came to my setup (Monday),” Andretti said, laughing. “So I’ve got to beat five guys with the same setup.”
His teammates have good reason to take a peek at Andretti’s notes. Andretti was the first driver to top 230 in a lap in May and has consistently been among the fastest drivers on the leaderboard.
“I feel especially good in traffic, which bodes well, hopefully, for the race,” he said. “That car has speed in a tow. Not thrilled about the speed alone, obviously. You need balance, you need a good car in traffic and I think we have that.”
Putting the bouquet of flowers as the perennial target has masked Andretti’s overall struggle to reach his father and grandfather’s performance in open wheel racing. Andretti has only two career wins, none since 2011 and no podiums since 2015. He’s rarely out front (no laps led this season; 76 overall since ‘14) but does have three top-10s in five races this season.
“I like a car that I can feel,” he said. “I think predictability comes with being on the edge the whole time. When it is on the edge, I can drive it as loose as anybody. I really struggled with the last aero kit. It’s not an excuse, I just really struggled with it. I felt that it was very in-and-out of grip.”
Andretti found bliss in his personal life when he got married in September to model Marta Krupa at the home he bought from his father. His close friend and former teammate James Hinchcliffe was a groomsman in the wedding. IndyCar was stunned when Hinchcliffe, a popular pitchman and former “Dancing With The Stars” contestant, failed to qualify for Sunday’s race. Hinch was set to visit his friend at the Andretti compound on Monday night and commiserate over one of the hardest days of his career.
“I hope he gains fans out of it, because of what he’s going through and the way he’s handling it is pretty admirable,” Andretti said.
Andretti has faced failure at Indy.
This year, he wants to keep that milk on ice.
“I’m as prepared as I can be, physically, mentally, spiritually,” Andretti said. “I need everything to work out. I know how that race is, that’s why you don’t get overconfident. But I’m not underconfident. I feel good.”