Marco looks marvelous in Indy debut

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:59 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS — Mario Andretti and son Michael already knew what everyone else saw in the Indy 500: Marco Andretti is one special driver.

On Sunday, in his first shot at the race his grandfather won in 1969, the 19-year-old Andretti came within 100 yards of joining Mario on the Borg-Warner Trophy.

Only a spectacular move by Sam Hornish Jr. on the final straightaway, making him the first driver in Indy to win with a last-lap pass, kept Marco from ending the Andretti family’s nearly four decades of frustration at the Brickyard.

Mario watched from Marco’s pit and was crestfallen after the checkered flag.

“He came so close,” he said. “I thought he was going to win.”

Mario paused, then added, “Of course, he’s got a lot of years left and he’s going to get a lot more chances.”

And just as his grandfather, father and uncle before him, Marco was selected the Indy rookie of the year during the annual victory dinner Monday night. He also earned $698,505 from a record purse of $10.5 million.

Hornish won $1.74 million, just short of the record $1.76 million by Buddy Rice two years ago. Michael Andretti took home $480,105 for third, and last year’s winner, Dan Wheldon, won $566,405 for fourth.

“Obviously, it’s pretty special,” Marco Andretti said of continuing his family’s rookie tradition. “I was actually pretty nervous in the month, and I definitely wanted to come away with this (award), but I knew if I set my goals even higher and tried to win the race that good things will follow, and hopefully it will.”

Since Mario first came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1965, winning rookie of the year with a third-place finish, the family has become an important part of the track’s lore.

Michael was the co-rookie of the year after finishing fifth in 1984, and younger brother Jeff, Marco’s uncle, finished 15th and was rookie of the year in 1991.

“Yeah, every family member of mine that competed got it, so there was no pressure,” Marco said, joking.

Michael did get to Victory Circle last year as co-owner of Wheldon’s winning car. But that’s not the same as if he or a family member got to drench themselves in winner’s milk.

It didn’t happen Sunday, either. But it was a pretty good day for the Nazareth, Pa., family.

And next year will only be easier, Marco said.

“Just because now the unknown isn’t really there,” he said. “Now you sort of know what to expect a little bit better. This year, I was really nervous because there’s a big unknown,

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