It all came together last weekend though when Marco turned in speeds topping 233 mph to beat out IndyCar points leader Scott Dixon for the pole position for the 104th running of the Indy 500 this Sunday.
In a year where everything seems strange, the Indy 500 will have a first: Running in August instead of May and running without any fans in the stands. I commented the other day, asking for someone to convince me that this isn't May since the baseball season started recently, there are NHL playoffs happening and now the Indy 500.
But as trying as 2020 has been across the country and the world, something finally broke right for Marco at the storied racetrack that has caused his family so much heartbreak over the years. Unless something changes, Mario will still be the only Andretti family member to win the race, drinking the milk in 1969. Son Michael has led the most laps in the race (431) without having ever won.
It looked like the rookie Marco was going to shatter the Andretti Curse in his very first shot back in 2006. Instead, Sam Hornish Jr., who didn't waste much time jumping to NASCAR afterward, beat out Marco at the line in one of the closest finishes ever.
Instead of sparking Marco's career, the race seemed to have solidified the Andretti Curse for him. He only has two race wins, back in 2008 and 2011. His grandfather ranks second on the all-time series wins list with 52, while dad Michael has 42 victories.But it's not like Marco has raced poorly in the Indy 500. In 14 starts, he's finished in the top-5 five times and in the top-10 eight times. Of course, podium finishes aren't really a thing at Indy, where the winner's circle with milk is all that matters. Marco's worst Indy 500 finish was 30th in 2009 when he crashed out on the first lap with Mario Moraes. His second-worst finish was last year, the 50th anniversary of his grandfather's Indy 500 win, recording 26th place.
The start of the race this year, always marked with pomp and circumstance, will feature the three Andretti generations leading the way. Mario will drive the famous two-seater car, known as Honda's Fastest Seat in Sports, before Marco leads the field to green as the polesitter.
A driver named Andretti has been in the Indy 500 since 1965.
If Marco wins, he'll be the 22nd driver to win the race from the pole position. It would be the first back-to-back pole winners since 2008 and 2009 when Dixon and Helio Castroneves accomplished the feat. It would also be the fifth time in Indy 500 history for back-to-back pole winners.
Pole aside, the odds are in the favor of row 1 as well, which this year is Dixon and Takuma Sato. 44-of-103 winners have come out of row 1 over the years. Nine winners have come from the front row since 2000, including the past two years. Row 2 starters do well also, with 19 winners. The last two were the late Dan Wheldon in 2011 and Takuma Sato in 2017. This year, row 2 is Rinus VeeKay, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe.
Here are the numbers from the rest of the grid, winners and where they've started:
Row 3: 8 winners (last in 1999)
Row 4: 7 winners (last in 2016)
Row 5: 9 winners (last in 2015)
Row 6: 4 winners (last in 2012)
Row 7: 6 winners (last in 2014)
I started keeping track of some starting grid/finishing position stats a couple of years ago. One still rings true: Only six Indy 500 winners out of 103 races have come from starting rows 8-10. It's been 46 years since it last happened, with Johnny Rutherford winning the race after starting in the 25th spot coming out of the ninth row.
No winner has ever gone from worst-to-first starting in the 11th and last row. That's not good news for Sage Karam, JR Hildebrand and Ben Hanley this year, making up positions 31, 32 and 33.
Past champs, vets, rookies
This year's starting grid includes eight past Indy 500 champions: Castroneves, Alexander Rossi, Sato, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Tony Kanaan, Hunter-Reay and Dixon.
Troy Ruttman is the youngest winner of the Indy 500, winning in 1952 at 22 years and 360 days old.
Points leader Dixon is looking for his second Indy 500 win. He's a five-time series champion and ranks third all-time in IndyCar victories with nearly 50 of them but just one at the Brickyard oval. He turned 40 years old in July and doesn't show any signs of slowing down, winning the first three races of this shortened/delayed 2020 season. He nearly had pole before Marco beat him out last weekend. The "Ice Man" is known for his consistency on track and will be one to watch.
Power is 39 years old, Sato is 43, Hunter-Reay will turn 40 in December, Ed Carpenter is 39 and Kanaan is 45. Meanwhile, in addition to some of the young rookies, Colton Herta is 20 and Santino Ferrucci is 22.
No women this year, plus other history
This race will also be the first Indy 500 without a female driver since 1999. For a while, the grid had featured multiple women, like Katherine Legge, Ana Beatriz, Pippa Mann, Danica Patrick and Simona de Silvestro. Mann was in the field last year after being bumped out in 2018, the year of Danica Patrick's final run at Indy. Lyn St. James ran from 1992-97 and 2000, the first year Sarah Fisher raced. Prior to 1992, Janet Guthrie was the first woman to race at Indy from 1997-79.
As has been the case since 2010, Castroneves will try to join the elite four-time winner club, joining A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. The 45-year-old will have his work cut out for him in the Pennzoil-yellow machine though; he starts on the inside of row 10 in 28th position. The last time a winner came out of row 10? Louis Meyer in 1936. Ray Harroun also started in row 10 when he won the very first race in 1911; both started in 28th position, the lowest starting spot for a winner.
Pagenaud will have to claw from that 25th position if he wants to be the first back-to-back winner since Castroneves in 2001 and 2002. Back-to-back winners have only been done five times in Indy 500 history: Wilbur Shaw (1939-40), Mauri Rose (1947-48), Bill Vukovich (1953-54), Al Unser (1970-71) and Castroneves (2001-02).
The year is a bit of a swan song for Kanaan, a veteran driver focused on running ovals this year. After some bad luck at Indy, he finally won the race in 2013. He's led the most races of any driver in race history, with 14, including 7 consecutive races from 2002-08.