PHILADELPHIA — Before Marco Andretti ties the knot, he has another milestone in mind to seal with a kiss.
This love story comes with no guarantees: The Brickyard just may jilt him.
But “Indianapolis 500 champion Marco Andretti” sure does have a nice ring to it for a family touched with more failure than fortune at “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing.”
If the Chicago Cubs could exorcise their Billy Goat curse and win the World Series, then why can’t the so-called Andretti Curse be vanquished by a 30-year-old, third-generation driver months away from marrying a supermodel?
Andretti found peace in his personal life when he proposed last year to Marta Krupa at the home he bought from his father. On the track, conquering Indy has given him the same fits that have vexed the Andrettis for decades and left a gaping hole in his resume.
“I don’t believe in curses,” Andretti said. “When you look at that place as a whole, it’s been one of my better places. I don’t think it owes me anything. I don’t think it owes the family anything. When you look at laps led and the dominance there, and the podiums, dad as an owner, a lot of good things have happened.”
True, the Andrettis are far from also-rans at Indy, where grandfather Mario, dad Michael and, of course, Marco have all been responsible for some of the most exhilarating moments over the first 100 races.
Mario Andretti won the 1969 Indy 500 and has tugged along nearly 50 years of close calls with him. Michael had it the worst, leading 431 laps in 16 career starts without ever getting the chance to swig that championship milk. Marco is 0 for 11 with a runner-up finish and three others in third place.
Marco was a rookie in 2006 and came oh-so-close. He surged to the lead in the closing laps — passing Michael, of all people — before he was caught by Sam Hornish Jr. Hornish won by a little more than a car length — just 0.064 seconds — and Marco and Michael settled for second and third.
“Yeah, four or five podiums, but it’s one of those places where the podiums don’t matter much,” Andretti said. “We’ve had the car to win here in maybe four races and two out of the four were DNFs.”
He crashed out of the 2007 and 2012 races and his 13th-place finish last year was his worst result when he actually finished. He ran as high as fifth last year until tire pressure woes derailed his run.
The 100th Indy 500 wasn’t all bad news for the family — rookie Alexander Rossi won driving for Andretti Autosport.
Andretti, with just two career IndyCar wins, wants to chug that milk and have a sculpture of his face added to the Borg-Warner trophy. But the desire to want to win Indy has never been engulfed by the thought that he must win Indy.
“I don’t think that’s a good approach,” he said. “Yeah, you want to win it. But if you feel like you have to win it, I don’t think it’s the right mindset. I don’t know. We’ll just give it our best shot. I think the place picks a winner.”
Andretti starts in the middle of Row 3 on Sunday in the No. 27 Honda. Andretti Autosport has Andretti, Rossi, Formula One veteran Fernando Alonso, 2014 Indy champ Ryan Hunter-Reay and rookie Jack Harvey in the field.
“I’m about where I need to be,” Andretti said. “But having a good car here is only about 60 percent of what you need. We need to have a good car but a lot of stuff has to go right.”
Michael Andretti has reaped the spoils of team ownership, winning two other Indy 500s with Dan Wheldon (2005) and Dario Franchitti (2007). But no win could possibly compare to father and son kneeling down in a sentimental celebration for the traditional kiss of the bricks.
With or without a win, reaching the finish line Sunday may be a small measure of success for Andretti. He opened the season a solid seventh at St. Petersburg before one of the worst four-race stretches of his career. He wrecked on the first lap at Phoenix and muddled through only 14 laps at Long Beach.
“Big time,” he said. “I think Indy’s like a championship itself. We’ll hit the reset button this month and then we’ll get back after it.”
And then, he’ll trade the firesuit for perhaps a tux.
Andretti and Krupa set a Sept. 23 wedding date at their home in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, a week after the IndyCar season finale. Let everyone else bemoan Andretti’s near-misses at Indy — he’s too busy enjoying what he does have this year.
“It’s just a good feeling,” he said.
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