More bad fortune strikes Andretti at Indy
INDIANAPOLIS (CNNSI.com) -- The "Andretti Luck" struck again Sunday.
Michael Andretti returned to Indianapolis Motor Speedway after a five-year absence, hoping for that elusive first victory in the 500-mile race.
A series of miscues -- including a slight collision with Tony Stewart in the pits -- forced Mario's little boy to settle for third behind Roger Penske's 1-2 finish: winner Helio Castroneves and runner-up Gil de Ferran.
Slumped on a counter in his garage, Andretti reflected on a finishing order that was like a dagger through the heart. Penske was racing in the 500 for the first time since 1994.
"Why did Roger have to come back this year?" Andretti said, shaking his head. "Timing is everything."
Andretti, who missed Indy the last five years because of the CART-Indy Racing League feud, started from the 21st position and kept charging toward the front, even as he met adversity all along the way. He led 16 laps, giving him 398 for his Indy career.
But he's now 0-for-12 in the world's richest race, saddled with the burden of being the guy who's led the most laps without actually winning.
It's always something: engine failures, driving mistakes, just plain bad luck.
"It's frustrating," Andretti said. "We did the best we could. We just came up short."
Mario Andretti, who became as well known for his failures as the family's lone Indy victory in 1969, tried to console his son.
"No one comes here to finish third, but at the end of this day, third was good," the father said. "Believe me, he's happy inside."
Early in the race, Michael Andretti ran over a piece of debris from Al Unser Jr.'s crash, flattening the left rear tire. Andretti ducked into the pits for a change and came out last in the 33-car field.
Andretti rallied quickly, grabbing the lead for the first time on lap 48 when Stewart made a pit stop. The 400,000 fans roared like the good ol' days when Andretti went back to the front again on lap 103, making a vintage Indy move to get by Greg Ray in turn four.
Then came a couple of incidents that conspired to keep Andretti from drinking milk in Victory Lane.
First, he lost the top spot on lap 110 after being called into the pits while the race was under yellow because of light rain. Team owner Barry Green hoped to gain an edge in fuel strategy.
"I'm praying to God you're right," Andretti said over his radio. "I'm praying, too," Green responded.
Unfortunately for Andretti, he never reclaimed the lead, hopes waning after his blue-and-white car ran into the back of Stewart while exiting the pits during a caution period.
The problem on lap 136 was hardly Andretti's fault.
In the race to get out first, Castroneves darted from his stall into the outer lane, forcing Stewart to hit the brakes. Andretti had nowhere to go, his nose buried underneath Stewart's car. When the cars pulled apart, damage was apparent on Andretti's front left wing.
He kept going but no longer as fast as the leaders. When Andretti's team finally got a chance to fix the damage, there were too many lapped cars to pass.
Andretti charged within two seconds of Castroneves with fewer than 10 laps to go, but had to back off as his handling faded. He wound up nearly six seconds behind Castroneves.
"We'll never know what may have happened," said Mario Andretti, who helped his son from the pits. "We can hash it over 'til the cows come home. But that's racing. You do the best you can with what's thrown at you, then you try again."
There is no doubt that the younger Andretti plans to try again in 2002, even though racing in the Indy 500 puts a major burden on his regular duties in the CART series.
"I'm pretty sure we'll be back," he said. "God, I've got to go through that schedule again next year."
Andretti received a $5,000 check for making the biggest move of the day, jumping 18 places. During a photo shoot in Gasoline Alley, he managed a weak grin and pondered the future.
At age 38, Andretti is running out of chances to win a race that has consumed his life. He wonders if he ever will.
"Who knows?" he said. "I'll just keep trying. That's all I can do."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.