It had been nearly five years since Marco Andretti captured his first win at Infineon Raceway in August of 2006. Many believed that would open the floodgates, giving him the confidence and momentum to deliver countless more. Given that he had just barely missed out on an Indy 500 a couple months prior and had shown remarkable speed and poise for a 19-year-old rookie, more wins seemed to beckon.
However, those wins never came. In their place was inconsistency, with the young Andretti either running near the front or crashing out, sometimes spectacularly. The speed and talent was there, it just needed to be harnessed.
What’s more, in place of the praise and compliments was criticism, many believing that he was pushing a little too hard and driving too aggressively. What’s more, some went so far as to label him “Silver Spoon,” insinuating he hadn’t earned his spot on the Andretti Autosport team but was given it simply because he is Michael’s son. Others even questioned his win in 2006, believing that then teammate Bryan Herta intentionally spun out to bring out a full-course caution, allowing Andretti to conserve enough fuel to win.
The struggles intensified when Andretti Autosport experienced a slight tale-spin, starting from end of 2008 and continuing through 2009, when the team failed to record a single victory. Signs of promise in 2010 (victories by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan) showed that perhaps the team had made progress. But, the disaster during this year’s Indianapolis 500 showed that they still had a lot of work ahead of them.
Still, Marco, now 24 and a seasoned veteran, and the team pressed on. Marco’s problems with crashing had alleviated significantly during Andretti Autosport’s drought and he appeared more calculated and patient in the cockpit.
However, that win eluded them. On Saturday night, they finally broke the door down. Father, and team owner, Michael was very emotional afterward. “Just really proud of him. We’re back!” Michael told Versus’ Robbie Floyd afterward.
Marco was a mix of jubilant and relieved in victory lane. “Never doubt these guys,” he said in the winner’s circle. “We were down a little bit on the bigger ovals but we know when it comes down to handling we'd be alright. These guys did a great job with pits. They got me the lead back. We had some good racing with T.K. (Tony Kanaan). It was good fun. The Venom boys were on it tonight.”
That duel with Tony Kanaan was one of the most memorable in recent memory, with the two trading the lead back forth numerous times over the last 50 laps. “Knowing TK, I knew he would do exactly what I did to him,” he said of their battle. He'd make his car very wide. I didn't want to wait until two to go because he was just going to chop me and I would have been done. I knew I had to get it done earlier and actually make my car wide."
The win proved enormously popular. All of the Andretti Autosport drivers congratulated Marco in victory lane, with Tony Kanaan, whose relation with Andretti had reportedly become rocky, also offering congratulations. “Congratulations to him. He did a great job,” said Kanaan. “It was a great battle, a great race. We didn't quite have the car. I think towards the end we got a little stronger. I'm happy for the team."
It remains to be seen if this will catapult Andretti and the team forward to fulfill the potential they’ve always. But, for one night, they showed everyone what they’re capable of.