An­dretti ig­nor­ing his de­trac­tors

Vet­eran fo­cused on break­ing out of his strug­gles at Po­cono

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Paul Rein­hard

When Marco An­dretti said, “You’re al­ways a treat to talk to,” in an­swer to a ques­tion at a func­tion Fri­day morn­ing, it elicited some laugh­ter around the ta­ble.

But, he was only half kid­ding. The ques­tion con­cerned how he was han­dling some of the strug­gles he’s been hav­ing again this sea­son in the NTT IndyCar Se­ries, which re­turns to Po­cono Race­way for Sun­day’s ABC Sup­ply 500 (2:30 p.m., NBCSN).

The facts — and he’s not happy with any of them — are that he has fin­ished 10th or bet­ter only four times in 13 starts in 2019 and has not won a race in the se­ries in his last 140 starts.

If his name was Smith, peo­ple prob­a­bly wouldn’t men­tion it. But he’s an An­dretti, and the fam­ily name car­ries with it an ex­pec­ta­tion of ex­cel­lence.

“At this point in my ca­reer, I can tell you the crit­ics don’t hurt me any­more,” the 32-yearold third-gen­er­a­tion driver from Nazareth said. “It used to drive me crazy, but you have to strive for the pos­i­tive side. Peo­ple blog­ging in their mother’s base­ment don’t bother me any­more.”

An­dretti is 16th in the se­ries point stand­ings, so thoughts of cham­pi­onships are all but dead.

But the pos­si­bil­ity to right the pro­gram on the clos­ing laps still ex­ists, and An­dretti Au­tosport, the race team owned by Marco’s fa­ther, Michael An­dretti, has taken a step that Marco says is “pretty much plug-and-play” and has as­signed Gar­rett Mothersead as the en­gi­neer on Marco’s #98 U.S. Con­crete Honda-pow­ered car.

Mothersead was the en­gi­neer when Takuma Sato drove to vic­tory in the 2017 In­di­anapo­lis 500 for AA and was serv­ing in that ca­pac­ity with Zach Veach this year.

“We did a bit of a swap,” Marco An­dretti said. “We had a test [to­gether] in Port­land; it was a lot of fun and we were fast, so I’m cau­tiously op­ti­mistic about it. I’ve worked with him for a while, on dif­fer

test days. He knows my style. It’s been good so far.”

The en­gi­neers for An­dretti Au­tosport’s four cars reg­u­larly work to­gether, which makes this al­most a mi­nor an­nounce­ment. But, if there is some small spark that can light a fire that leads to some­thing big, the move is pretty much a no-brainer. There is noth­ing to lose.

“I just need some con­fi­dence and a car I can re­ally feel and

work on,” An­dretti said. “Hope­fully, we can roll off the truck with a good car so we can keep the setup very close and not jump around as much as we have [at other tracks]. Jump­ing around re­ally hurts.”

The teams won’t have much time to find the right setup this week­end. The cars have only a one-hour prac­tice ses­sion (9:30 a.m.) to get ready for qual­i­fy­ing and one fi­nal prac­tice ses­sion at the end of the day.

“I don’t re­ally care if I’m not on pole here,” An­dretti said. “Like 2013.”

When IndyCar made its reent

turn to Po­cono six years ago, An­dretti put his car on the pole with a two-lap av­er­age of 221.273 mph. He led more laps than all the other cars com­bined, but he had to con­serve fuel to­ward the end and wound up fin­ish­ing 10th.

That is one of the one-that-got-away events An­dretti had in mind when he looked at his ca­reer on Fri­day.

“It’s so easy to look back at races that I feel I should have won,” he said. “That puts you in such a frus­trat­ing mind­set, be­cause there have been a lot of races that eluded me. And you know, that kind of hurts your con­fi­dence … not your con­fi­dence, but your pos­i­tiv­ity.

“I know how com­pet­i­tive the se­ries is. I don’t need to ex­plain that to any­body. And so, in some of those, you slip a lit­tle, you slip a lot. You’re two-tenths [of a sec­ond] off. When I came into the se­ries, you’re still sixth; now you’re 16th. So all it’s all about hun­dredths. When you think you’re far off, you’re not.”

An­dretti may have his crit­ics, but he also has a huge fol­low­ing — 157,700-plus fol­low­ers on Twit­ter.

“I read ‘em; I ap­pre­ci­ate peo­ple who ride with me on bad days,” he said. “I ap­pre­ci­ate the ones who know how com­pet­i­tive IndyCar is.”

Af­ter Po­cono, there are three races left in the sea­son.

An­dretti Au­tosport has had two pre­vi­ous Po­cono win­ners — Alexan­der Rossi last year and Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2015.

“Yeah, it would [be per­fect to see things turn around at Po­cono],” An­dretti said. “I was sev­enth last year and had to con­serve some fuel at the end. Our po­ten­tial is good.”

TOM E. PUSKAR/AP

Marco An­dretti has fin­ished 10th or bet­ter only four times in 13 starts in 2019 and has not won an IndyCar race in his last 140 starts.

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