For the first time in his eight-year IndyCar Series career, Marco Andretti can picture himself winning the season championship. The new Marco is a more-complete driver, not only on the track, but out of the cockpit as well.
His off-season spent in Europe to hone his road and street course skills has been well-documented elsewhere, but that's not the only change in the 26-year-old, third-generation driver either. Andretti has made an effort to be more valuable to his teammates and ultimately be a more-mature person in general.
The life changes has the veteran (what a strange description) sitting fourth in the standings -- the highest of all Andretti Autosport teams and just 12 points out of the lead. Andretti isn't quite where he wants to be but he knows that he's closer than he was last season.
"I always knew I was a decent driver," Andretti said during a Tuesday conference call. "I just needed to put it all together, basically. I'm yet to do that. Until I start clicking off poles and wins on street courses, then I'll sleep a lot better than I am at night.
"However, I am sleeping better than I was last year. I think that these notches on the belt help.You can't explain it. It all just starts coming together. ... This is the first time I can actually say that I can see myself winning this championship."
While that seems bold coming from a driver with just one podium finish in three races, Andretti is looking at more than just the results. He realizes that the oval summer stretch -- his strong suit -- is just around the corner, starting with this month's Indianapolis 500, and he's off to the best start of his career on road and street courses.
But more importantly, Andretti recognizes that he has the speed to contend for victories on any course this season.
"Don't look at just the finishes," Andretti said. "I look at our competitiveness in general. I've been working on consistency in the off-season and I'm pleased so far. We have that. But I need to be consistently better.
"I think if we keep driving the way we've been, the wins are going to come. So it's hard not to get excited about that because I just know it."
The biggest source of pride for Andretti is that his fast start has his Andretti Autosport teammates coming to him for race data and advice for the weekend. That hadn't always been the case on tracks where left and right turns were required. To Andretti, that's the biggest sign that he's arrived as a complete championship contender.
"I told my teammates this off-season that I'm going to contribute more this year to the team," Andretti said. "I didn't want them just coming in my trailer on road courses and ovals. I wanted it to be across the board (on street courses too.)
"I got to say it's been a great joint effort. You know what I mean? Before (this year) they wouldn't even be looking at me, and now they're having to compare stuff against me, which is a good feeling."