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Andretti Focused on Race Pace despite Sizzling Speed in Practice

Marco Andretti has been humbled enough to know how to accentuate a positive while also keeping it in perspective.

He did both when assessing progress Wednesday after the second practice for the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, during which he posted the fastest speed so far in his No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda fielded by Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian.

“Somebody is going to be, it might as well be you,” Andretti said of being No. 1 on the Scoring Pylon at 227.053 mph. “But that’s secondary to having a race car and winning the race here. I’ve been quickest I don’t know how many times and still no Borg-Warner.”

Driven to add the replica of his face on that trophy, where grandfather Mario had his likeness added after a 1969 Indy 500 win, has been a maddening pursuit. Andretti, 31, has come close too many times since being passed for the win by Sam Hornish Jr. on the final straightaway of memorable 2006 rookie debut. So many times since, he’s had a car capable to win but has settled for seven top-10 finishes, including third three times.

Andretti admits he’s let the frustration of not winning the Indy 500 impact how he’s raced elsewhere. But with team co-owner Bryan Herta calling his races for a second season, and a swap for Alexander Rossi’s car number (98), things may be looking up.

Andretti has started the season with three top-10 finishes in five starts. He’s not where he wants to be but admits it’s “a bit” of an improvement. The calm, patient influence of Herta has resonated.

“It’s always nice to be quickest at Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Herta said. “Maybe it doesn’t mean a whole lot for Race Day, but for our program, we’re making progress and we’re just focused on what we’re doing. I feel like we’re doing the right things. We’re doing the things we should be doing to get ready to go try and win the Indy 500.

“You like to have positive momentum. That’s always good for any team. But the big thing for the ‘500,’ because we’ve got two weeks of testing and activities, you’ve got to build that momentum over the two weeks. We’ve had a good couple of days so far. We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got to keep our heads down and keep working.”

Andretti’s work-in-progress focus saw the positives in turning fast laps while drafting off other cars, but he still needs to work on handling when in traffic and reminded his car was too slow when not receiving a tow.

“There are worse places to be,” Andretti said, “but we’re still working on the race car.”
He was also quick to remind that everything can change from one day to the next at IMS. Today, he’s No. 1. Tomorrow, for whatever reason, he could sink to No. 17 on the speed chart.

After finishing 16th and 12th in the points the past two seasons, Andretti also won’t overthink the big picture. He’s always focused so much effort on the Indy 500, that will never change, but there’s added benefit to a strong result.

“We’re 10th in points. It’s not where I want to be, right?” Andretti said. “I think Indy is a championship in itself. That’s how we look at it, so it’s almost like a reset button. The momentum is going to be whoever comes out of here victorious because not only are you Indy 500 champion, it’s double points, and you’re probably going to be in the top two or three.”

His best points finish was fifth in 2013.

Practice continues Thursday with another seven-hour session scheduled from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner, mentioned how unseasonably warm temperatures in the 80s can make these practices more demanding.

The Verizon IndyCar Series’ offseason unveiling of a redesigned car with a universal aero kit received positive reaction from drivers, particularly Andretti, who liked the idea of a driver having more control over a car with less downforce.

One of Michael Andretti’s cars has won three of the past four Indy 500s, so will adjusting to these new cars impact any advantage the team might have enjoyed?

“I don't know. We're P1 right now,” Marco Andretti said. “It's still early days. We don't know how the race is going to play out yet. The car feels good.

“It’s just circumstances have to work out, really. I mean, this place picks the winners. I've had the best cars ever here and not been victorious for some reason. (I) just need to have a good enough car and good enough shot and have circumstances work out.”

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