Friday, September 27, 2019

2019 Minnesota Twins: It's already been a fun ride

Target Field, 2010.
I don't remember where I was when the 2010 Minnesota Twins clinched their division title. The year before offered up a thrilling Game-163 victory at the Metrodome, and I definitely have vivid memories of watching that game with my friend Cassie at Joe Senser's. Maybe after a decade full of division titles, it was more meaningful for me to remember where I was when the Twins were, once again, swept out of the ALDS in 2010.

After the dust settled on the game-3 loss to the New York Yankees, I remember being in the basement listening to the local sports radio hosts as they broke things down. Based on what they said, and my own feelings after the game, I remember feeling really down about their chances to get past the feared Yankees in a playoff round. The Twins had a bunch of chances throughout the decade, and they had one ALCS appearance to show for it, back in 2002. Either way, 2010 just seemed like the end of an era, whether we knew it at the time or not.

That certainly turned out to be the case. It took nine years, until this past Wednesday night, for the Twins to clinch another division title. Sure, the 2017 team made the postseason, but it's still hard to qualify that as the same thing, especially when they're the wild-card team that lost and didn't advance to a playoff series.

After 2010, the Target-Field era has been filled with struggling teams (remember those 103 losses in 2016?) and teams that seemed to go the opposite direction of pre-season expectations.

But 2019 has brought all the Twins optimism back. What a freakin' summer. As of Friday night's rain-shortened victory in Kansas City, the Twins have 100 wins in a season for the second time in franchise history.

New manager, new players for a fresh start in 2019
The Twins came into the spring with a new manager in Rocco Baldelli. After saying a fond farewell to Joe Mauer at the end of 2018, the front office went out and signed guys like Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron. Fast forward to the night the Twins clinched their division in late September, and those four players alone combined for 102 home runs.

This season has almost too many moments to recount or choose as favorites. That's the kind of year it's been for a group dubbed, in late May by Eddie Rosario, the Bomba Squad.

First, the Twins broke the Major League Baseball record for home runs by a team in a single season with No. 268 on Aug. 31, part of a six-homer game for the Twins, bookended by "back-up" catcher Mitch Garver. Talk about juiced baseballs all you want, but home runs will never stop being entertaining. To see the Twins put up these kinds of numbers this year in the home-run column is astonishing.

Beyond that, the team/franchise/MLB records fell all over the place. It was 226 homers to break the franchise record (Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins), then 268 to break the record set by the New York Yankees just last season. The day after the Twins clinched the division, Schoop hit No. 300 for the squad.

The home runs became such a regular occurrence that I started adding more stat columns to my personal Twins spreadsheet. I turned it into a color-coded column to mark the homers each game; it was rare that they didn't homer at all (only 30 homeless games with two left), especially in the first two months of the season. They've never gone more than two games without a homer. Funny enough though, the Twins had a slow start with the long ball. They hit just one in the first five games, but that could be attributed to some cold weather, too.

Everybody hits on the Bomba Squad 
A few things stick out when it comes to the Bombas. Max Kepler hit three in the same game off Shane Bieber in Cleveland. Cruz added a pair of 3-homer games of his own. More recently, Cruz put an exclamation mark on the regular-season, home finale at Target Field by hitting his 400th career home run and 40th of the season. Not bad for a guy who turned 39 this season and shows no signs of slowing down, despite two stints on the injured list this year.

Seeing Cruz crush that home run against the Royals, then get the curtain call from the fans, was one of those great, milestone moments. It was a fitting way to end the home schedule, just like the 2018 finale when Joe Mauer came out in catcher's gear for the 9th inning.

Sanó has the power 
Miguel Sanó started out the season missing 41 games with a nagging injury, but he's certainly left his mark once again. In June, he went through a very rough stretch at the plate, piling up the strikeouts. Some adjustments were made, and the Bombas starting flying. He's had a few of the memorable ones.

On July 23, during a home game against the Yankees, the Twins ended up losing 14-12 in 10 innings (nearly missing a walk-off win after a diving catch from Aaron Hicks). This was a back-and-forth game that still goes down as probably the most exciting of the year for me - even though the Twins lost. That was really the only thing that was a bummer.

The Twins hosted the NL East Champion Atlanta Braves in early August. Though the Twins lost that series, the lone victory for the Twins was a thrilling walk-off victory, their third of the season and first via the home run. Sanó stepped to the plate in the 9th inning in a tie game with two outs and a runner on.

He's had a few home runs this season with a loud crack-of-the-bat. This was no exception as he blasted it deep to center field. The best part of the play was watching as the ball sailed high above Atlanta center fielder Ronald Acuña Jr.'s head, and then seeing the outfielder simply put his head down and start trotting in when it was obvious to him that the game was over.

Sanó's other big Bomba this season is what some started calling a "division dagger." Every series since the All-Star Break between the Twins and the Indians was labeled by many as "the biggest series of the year." The Twins lost 3-of-4 at Target Field in early August as Cleveland continued to dwindle the Twins' division lead. The Twins got back in control and could really put a stamp on the division during their final series in Cleveland in mid-September.

Division dagger
They were scheduled for a weekend series, but after starting a couple innings of the Friday night game, with Jake Odorizzi on the mound, the tarp came on the field as the forecasted heavy rain and thunderstorms invaded the area. The game was postponed, setting up a doubleheader the next day. On paper, this seemed less than ideal for the Twins, who would now have to go with two bullpen games instead of just one.

But there's just something about this team, right? Jorge Polanco's early two-run homer against Indians ace Mike Clevinger held up for a 2-0 win in game one. Clevinger hadn't lost a game in months. The Twins decided to go for it in game two, going with a solid lineup that included both Kepler and Sanó, each back for both games that day after missing some time with injuries.

The Twins first tied the game 5-5 in the 8th inning off an RBI double from Polanco. After an intentional walk to Cruz, then a non-intentional walk to Rosario to fill the bases, Sanó stepped up and destroyed another baseball, hitting his first career grand slam off Nick Goody to put the Twins in front for good, for a 9-5 victory. All those home runs, and it was only the second grand slam of the season for the Twins.

What a time for it. The Twins completed the doubleheader sweep to take the series and effectively end the division race with 13 games to play against the division bottom feeders to end the season.

A division clinch at home didn't end up happening, and like has been the case a few times, the Twins took care of business and then waited for the outcome of the Chicago White Sox game to determine their fate. They popped the bubbly late in Detroit after the Indians lost on Thursday.

Divisional foes play each other 19 times a season, and Comerica Park in Detroit has a special place as part of 2019 Minnesota Twins history. Garver hit the MLB-record-breaking home run there on Aug. 31. The Twins won the first two games against the Tigers (a team guaranteed to finish as the worst in baseball this year with old-friend Ron Gardenhire leading the way) in late September to clinch their first division title since 2010.

And then, the next day when everyone expected the "hangover lineup" to take a loss, Schoop hit the team's 300th home run of the season, making them the first team in MLB history to reach that milestone in a single season. For good measure, fan-favorite Willians Astudillo finished that game with a career-high 4 hits and homer No. 301 for the team (his fourth of the season).

I could go on and on about the memorable moments from this season, in no particular order...
  • The rise of rookie Luis Arraez
  • Joe Mauer's No. 7 retirement ceremony 
  • Rosario's throw to the plate to win the game at Fenway 
  • Twins sweeping a 4-game series in Texas for the first time
  • All the records this team shattered, which seems to happen on a daily basis
  • The 18- and 17-inning games at Target Field, with Kepler driving in the tying and game-winning runs in the 17-inning win over the Red Sox at Target Field in June 
  • Pretty much anything Astudillo does on the field, or his reactions in the dugout 
  • The dominance of Taylor Rogers as a closer, and the way guys like Trevor May and Tyler Duffey have rebounded to shut teams down 
  • Six winning months
  • 54 (and counting) road victories, the best in baseball and a team record 
  • 5 players with 30+ home runs, a new MLB record 
  • A pair of 8-homer games
  • Sweeping the Orioles 6-0 this season with 23 homers in the process 
  • Twins turned two triple plays at home this season with Martín Pérez on the mound
  • The Arraez at-bat in the 9th on July 16, when he entered for the injured Schoop with an 0-2 and worked a walk
  • Avoiding a 3-game losing streak until mid-July
  • Consecutive team shutouts in Toronto in early May 
  • 56 #Bombas in the month of May 
  • All the Garver home runs, including his 2-run shot in the 8th inning to break a scoreless tie v. the Royals on June 14 
  • 100 wins

All along, I've said how much I've enjoyed the ride this season. And with 162 games, you have to look at it that way. It's a grind, but this year has been so much fun. Do Twins fans want more? Of course, they do. Do they get nauseous when they hear the Twins will match up against the Yankees in the ALDS once again? Sure. 

Despite whatever might happen in the postseason, I will look back at this season and remember what a great run they had getting back to first place in the division, winning 100 games for the first time since 1965 and hitting all the home runs. 

I just hope they're not done yet. Bring on October baseball.

Editor's note: Did I miss your favorite moment from the 2019 season? Want to share your top moment? Let me know in the comments, or Tweet me @hlrule. Thanks for reading! 

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Indy 500: The field of 33 in 2019

Time for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. Time sure flies; it feels like we just celebrated the 100th running in 2016.

I may have gone a little overboard here, but I've outlined the entire starting grid for the field of 33 drivers, which includes rookies, past winners and IndyCar champions. Like each of the past two years, there is just one woman in the race this year.

It's also the first year that NBC will broadcast the race, a partnership that made sense with the already-involved NBCSN. Before this year, ABC has always broadcast the Indy 500, so we'll see what changes might be in store, if any.

I didn't touch on every single driver below, though I covered most and tried to incorporate some tidbits about the race history with starting/finishing positions.

Happy Indy 500!

Row 1 

Simon Pagenaud - No. 22
Team: Team Penske
Engine: Chevrolet

Pagenaud is the first Frenchman to win the pole in exactly a century when Rene Thomas started first. For a while during the Fast Nine, it looked like Ed Carpenter was going to lock up his second consecutive Indy 500 pole and fourth overall. That was until Pagenaud turned in a four-lap average of 229.992 mph to take the top spot. He won the IndyCar Series title in 2016, but he went winless for Penske last season. He made a masterful run to catch and pass Scott Dixon in the closing laps of the IndyCar Grand Prix earlier this month, getting him back on the winning track and in search of a clean sweep on May.

Ed Carpenter - No. 20
Team: Ed Carpenter Racing
Engine: Chevrolet
Past Indy 500 poles: 2013, 2014, 2018

Before a qualifying run from Pagenaud in the Fast Nine, it looked like it could be an all-Carpenter Racing front row for the 500. There's just something about the speedway that agrees with the team, as it always seems to find the speed. Carpenter, in particular, has had success, which you could label as home-track advantage. The veteran driver and team owner only drives on ovals. He's still looking for his first Indy 500 win.

Spencer Pigot - No. 21
Team: Ed Carpenter Racing
Engine: Chevrolet

It's Pigot's fourth season with the team and second as a full-time driver. He made his Indy 500 debut in 2016 and started out as the team's road and street course driver. His best finish was back in 18th, so he's already put himself in a great position to win. He was born on Sept. 29, so that's cool. ;-)

Row 2

Ed Jones - No. 63
Team: Ed Carpenter Racing
Engine: Chevrolet

Jones is riding the solid work of the Carpenter Racing team. He'll race in his third Indy 500, just missing out on the front row after his previous best start was in 11th position. He crashed out of last year's race.

Colton Herta - No. 88
Team: Harding Steinbrenner Racing
Engine: Honda
Rookie, won the Freedom 100 in Indy Lights in 2018

Herta will drive the highest-qualifying Honda machine and try to make history as the youngest winner of the Indy 500. He turned 19 on March 30. He's already the youngest driver to win an IndyCar race after he took first at Circuit of the Americas this spring, just before he turned 19.

Will Power - No. 12
Team: Team Penske
Engine: Chevrolet
Past Indy 500 wins: 2018

Power is the defending Indy 500 champion. The last driver to win back-to-back 500s is Power's former full-time teammate, Helio Castroneves. Power bucked the trend of his unsuccessful runs on oval tracks when he won last year.

Row 3

Sebastien Bourdais - No. 18
Team: Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan
Engine: Honda
Best Indy 500 finish: Seventh

Bourdais tore it up in ChampCar, winning titles and races. He's still going strong in IndyCar, and came back from a horrifying crash in Indy 500 qualifying in 2017. He's led just four laps in the big race.

Josef Newgarden - No. 2 
Team: Team Penske
Engine: Chevrolet
Best Indy 500 finish: Third

With his teammate Pagenaud on the pole, and his other teammate Power having won last year, Newgarden might be feeling some pressure (self-imposed or otherwise) to win this race. Heck, everybody wants to win. But Newgarden, the 2017 series champion, has won plenty of other races for one of the series' best teams, and he'd like to check off the biggest race in the world.

Alexander Rossi - No. 27
Team: Andretti Autosport
Engine: Honda
Past Indy 500 wins: 2016

Rossi won the race as a rookie in one of the most memorable Indy 500s - the 100th running in 2016. A fuel gamble paid off, and he ended up in victory lane. He's only led 37 laps at Indy in three races.

Row 4

No. 98 Marco Andretti (runner-up in 2006 as a rookie)
No. 25 Conor Daly (improved on his previous best starting position of 22nd)
No. 3 Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002, 2009 Indy 500 winner; 4-time Indy 500 polesitter; running his 18th Indy 500)

As one of the most successful veterans in the race, Castroneves holds the lead in many Indy 500 categories among the active drivers. He's run the most laps (3,399) in the most races (18) and led 305 laps in 12 races. Only twice has his car not been running at the end of the race. Since the 2010 race, he's been on the hunt (and has gotten close) for his fourth Indy 500 victory, which would join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Marco would be one of the best storybook victories if he could pull it off. As has been mentioned throughout the month, it was 50 years ago in 1969 when his grandfather, Mario, won the Indy 500. Marco's father and team owner, Michael, still holds the record for the most laps led at Indy for someone who never won the race. Marco nearly won in 2006 as a rookie before Sam Hornish Jr. passed him just before the yard of bricks. Marco has eight top-10 finishes in 13 Indy 500s.

Daly, who's without a full-time IndyCar ride this season, makes his best Indy 500 start in his sixth attempt. He'll look to improve on his best finish of 21st.

Row 5

No. 7 Marcus Ericsson (rookie)
No. 30 Takuma Sato (2017 Indy 500 winner)
No. 33 James Davison (running his 5th Indy 500)

Ericsson, from Sweden, is a rookie in IndyCar and the 500, but he's no rookie when it comes to racing. He spent the past five seasons in Formula 1.

Sato crashed late in the race as he tried to make a pass for the lead and inside hit the wall in the 2012 Indy 500; Dario Franchitti won his third that year. Sato became the first Japanese driver to win the Indy 500 in 2017, the 101st running of the event.

Row 6

No. 14 Tony Kanaan (2013 Indy 500 winner; 2005 Indy 500 polesitter; running his 17th Indy 500)
No. 15 Graham Rahal (father/team owner Bobby Rahal won the Indy 500 in 1986)
No. 9 Scott Dixon (2008 Indy 500 winner; 2018 IndyCar Series Champion; 3-time Indy 500 polesitter in 2008, 2015, 2017)

After many years of bad luck, fan-favorite Kanaan finally got his Indy 500 victory six years ago. The Brazilian races for four-time winner A.J. Foyt's team and is one of the veterans on the grid. The only active driver to have raced in more Indy 500s is Castroneves. Kanaan has led in 14 of his Indy 500s, more than any other driver in the 2019 field, good for a total of 355 laps led. He's turned 2,952 laps in the 500.

Dixon has started in the top 10 in 10 of his 16 Indy 500s, including three times on the pole. He didn't make the Fast Nine in qualifying, so the defending IndyCar champion is in a bit of uncharted territory. However, you can never count out the guy known as "Ice Man." He nearly ran away with a victory at the IndyCar Grand Prix this year before Pagenaud caught up to him. Dixon has 11 top-10 finishes in the 500 and has led in 11 races with 439 laps led, more than any other driver in this field. Dixon is one of the best drivers in IndyCar history, but can he finally get his second Indy 500 win? It's been more than a decade since he hit victory lane.

Rahal has three top-10 finishes in his 11 starts as he tries to join his team owner and father, Bobby, as an Indy 500 champ.

Row 7

No. 77 Oriol Servia (2 top-10 finishes; running his 10th Indy 500)
No. 23 Charlie Kimball (best Indy 500 finish: third)
No. 48 JR Hildebrand (finished second in 2011)

JR Hildebrand, starting in his ninth 500, is connected to one of the most memorable finishes in recent years. He had the lead on the final lap in 2011 and looked well on his way to sipping the milk. But as he came out of the last turn, he tried to go around a lapped car, only to get too high and crash into the outside wall. As his car skidded along, Dan Wheldon was there to capitalize and take the checkered flag for his second Indy 500 victory. But Wheldon was not able to defend his title; he was killed in the season finale in Las Vegas.

Servia is one of the veteran drivers. He's had a lengthy career in ChampCar and then IndyCar when the series merged back together. His first Indy 500 was in 2002 (when Herta was a toddler).

Row 8

No. 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014 Indy 500 winner)
No. 19 Santino Ferrucci (rookie)
No. 4 Matheus Leist (finished the Indy 500 13th in his rookie season)

Sure, Hunter-Reay would probably like to be starting further up on the grid. But remember that when he won in 2014, he started in row seven. He was just the sixth winner to come out of that row and first since 1987. However, only two drivers have won from row eight, and you have to go back to 1935 to find the last one: Kelly Petillo started 22nd, the same place Hunter-Reay will start on Sunday.

Leist, the 20-year-old Brazilian, is fresh off his best IndyCar finish in his second year in the series. He took fourth at the IndyCar Grand Prix earlier this month on the speedway's road course.

Row 9 

No. 60 Jack Harvey (running his 3rd Indy 500)
No. 42 Jordan King (rookie)
No. 81 Ben Hanley (rookie)

This row is filled with three Brits. King is an Indy 500 rookie, but he has a few years of racing experience under his belt, including last season in IndyCar. With Ed Carpenter still racing ovals, King would usually take over for road-course duties.

The Manchester, England native Hanley found some speed as a first-year driver with a first-year team to get into the race without being on the bubble or in the Last Row Shootout.

Harvey makes his best start in 25th position for his third Indy 500. His best finish is 16th.

Row 10 

No. 26 Zach Veach (running his 3rd Indy 500)
No. 10 Felix Rosenqvist (rookie)
No. 39 Pippa Mann (only woman in the field)

It wasn't long ago that there were multiple women - four, actually - in the race. Danica Patrick is the most famous, retiring after the Indy 500 last year. As it turned out, Patrick was the only woman in the race last year, after Pippa was bumped. As a one-car, one-off team coming to Indy every year, you had to feel for Pippa. But 2019 has been a time for smiles. There was no doubt she made it, when she landed in the last position (30th) on the first qualifying day. She was in and didn't even have to worry about getting bumped out. Pippa will race in her 7th Indy 500, with her best finish being 17th. She's turned 1,032 laps in her Indy 500 career.

Rosenqvist is also a rookie at Indy, but he's competed in all kinds of racing from Formula E to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Row 11

No. 24 Sage Karam (best Indy 500 finish: 9th)
No. 5 James Hinchcliffe (2016 Indy 500 polesitter; failed to qualify for the 2018 field)
No. 32 Kyle Kaiser (bumped Fernando Alonso from the field in the Last Row Shootout; running his 2nd Indy 500)

No driver has ever won the Indianapolis 500 when starting from row 11. With the new qualifying format this year and the Last Row Shootout, these three were just happy to make the field. They were the three that made it out of six drivers last Sunday. It would have been devastating for Hinchcliffe had he missed the race for a second consecutive year. He's had quite the roller coaster at Indy the past few years, from a crash that nearly killed him, to winning the pole and then missing out last year.

Kaiser was the final car to make the field this year, bumping F1 champ Alonso. It's a true underdog story. Kaiser has fewer laps run in the Indy 500 than any other driver on the starting grid this year (110); he finished 29th last year after a mechanical issue ended his day a little early.

Other storylines and tidbits: 
  • The three oldest drivers in the field are all 44 years old: Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Oriol Servia. Kanaan is the only one of the three who's still in IndyCar with a full-time ride. 
  • Simon Pagenaud will look to become the 21st driver to win the race from the pole position. The last time that happened? Castroneves with his third win in 2009 and Dixon a year prior. 
  • There are seven Indy 500 champions in this year's race: Castroneves, Rossi, Sato, Power, Kanaan, Hunter-Reay and Dixon. Castroneves is the only one who's won the race more than once. 
  • In the past 10 years, the winner has come out of the front row three times (2009, 2010, 2018). However, though the winner has traditionally come from the first three starting positions - a total of 43 times - it's been more of a less predictable, mixed bag the past few years. It was row two in 2011 and 2017, row four in 2013, 2016, row five in 2015, row six in 2012 and row 7 in 2014. 
  • Only six winners out of 102 races have come from as far back as rows 8-10. The last time it happened? 1974 when Johnny Rutherford won it from the 25th position in the ninth row.

Friday, May 24, 2019

1969: The lone Andretti (driver) win at the Indy 500

The 1969 Indy 500 winner, driven by Mario Andretti.
Mario Andretti started on the front row for the 53rd running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1969. He was the first car to cross the yard of bricks after 500 miles to earn his first Indy 500 victory. At 29 years old in his fifth Indy 500, it seemed like it would be the first of many wins for Mario.

Fifty years later, he's the only driver named Andretti to win the storied race.

It just doesn't seem right, really. With Mario and later his sons Michael and Jeff, nephew John and grandson Marco all strapping into a race car, one would think the victories would pile up for the family. While there was plenty of racing success, especially for Mario and Michael, it just didn't seem to happen at Indy. Their bad luck developed into what's commonly called the Andretti Curse.

Mario first ran at Indy in 1965, finishing third to take Rookie of the Year honors. He won the pole in 1966 and 1967 before finishing in the last and 33rd position in 1968.

According to, Mario had this to say: "When I won it, it was only the second race that I finished there. I dominated more than once. I could have had won it so easily in 1966 and ’67 because I had the car so quick. I was getting really frustrated, wondering what it was going to take. So when I crossed the finish line to win in ’69, it was like a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I thought, ‘At least I’ve got that under my belt, and now we move on.’”

Even in 1969, it's not like the win came easy for Mario. He had to compete in a backup car after he crashed his Lotus-Ford in practice, leaving his face burned up, with burns that were visible on race day. Mario wasn't able to beat A.J. Foyt for the pole but managed to qualify second with an average speed of 169.851 mph in his the Brawner Hawk backup car. Mario started in the middle of the front row in between Foyt and Bobby Unser on the outside.

Perhaps it wasn't significant at the time, but that's a stacked front row of racing legends. Foyt became the first four-time Indy 500 winner, and Bobby won the race three times. They didn't have to contend with another legend, Bobby's brother Al Unser. Al was fast in practice but didn't race that year. He fell and broke his ankle while going motorcycle riding in the speedway's infield.

Before the race, the starting front row drivers pose for a traditional photo shoot with their cars on the front stretch of the track. Maybe this was common knowledge, but I didn't find this out until recently: Mario wasn't in the photo. There was still a guy who looked like Mario but without the facial burns. It was his twin brother, Aldo. I think it was mentioned in a recent Racer Magazine story I read, and Mario mentioned it on the NBCSN documentary, "Drive Like Andretti."

At the drop of the green flag on race day, Friday, May 30, 1969, Mario jumped into the early lead. He surrendered the lead to Foyt within a few laps following some water temperature issues with the Brawner Hawk. Foyt had engine trouble and spent a significant amount of time in the pits, effectively putting him out of contention for the win. Lloyd Ruby led the race at the halfway point, but his own bad luck reared its head when he pulled away from a pit stop with his fuel hose still attached. The tear in his car's fuel tank ended his day and put some good fortune Mario's way.

Mario was all alone in the lead and raced around the 2.5-mile oval for the final 95 laps to earn his first - and what turned out to be his only - Indianapolis 500 victory. He led a total of 116 laps and set a race record finishing at 156.867 mph. Dan Gurney and Bobby Unser finished behind him.

One of the most iconic - yes, iconic - scenes in victory lane at the Indianapolis 500 came with Mario and his car owner, Andy Granatelli. It's been shown over and over in various Indy 500 video montages over the years. After Mario had climbed out of the car, Granatelli grabbed Mario and planted a big, wet kiss on his cheek. At least Mario was able to get a swig of milk first.

The story goes that the kiss from Granatelli is what started the Andretti Curse. Granatelli had his own previous bad luck at the speedway, so perhaps he was passing that along to the Andretti clan. The curse, for those who believe, has been lessened in the past few years as Mario's son and IndyCar team owner, Michael Andretti, has won the big race as an owner after having never won from the driver's seat.

One of the biggest joys for the Andretti family could come in the form of an Indy 500 victory for Mario's grandson and Michael's son, Marco, come Sunday in the 103rd running of the race. What a cool storybook ending to a 50-year chapter that would be for the Mario and his family.