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Indianapolis 500 2014: Curse or not, Indy haunts Andretti family

Does the Indy 500 have the Andretti family under a curse? Mario Andretti emphatically says no, while grandson Marco Andretti isn't so sure.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS -- With his family as much a part of the history of the Indianapolis 500 as the bricks laid across the start/finish line, Marco Andretti knows the questions are inevitable.

This doesn't mean he's comfortable responding, though he does so reluctantly. The same applies to Marco's grandfather, Mario Andretti, who dismisses any notion that some sort of supposed curse haunts his family.

"I think zero wins since ‘69 has fueled this family more than you can believe. It would be such a huge relief for the family. I think we would all break down crying."-Marco Andretti

"I don't look at it that way, I never did," Mario said to SB Nation Saturday. "It's something somebody else fabricated. I feel I've had more blessings than anything here at Indianapolis for me and my family. Yes, we've had some trying moments, but the positive side for us has been overwhelming here."

There is no denying, however, that the legacy of the Andretti family at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is as much filled with disappointment and heartbreak as triumph.

Collectively, the Andretti family has made 68 Indianapolis 500 starts. Yet just once has a driver with the surname Andretti sipped milk in victory lane -- Mario, whose lone Indy win came in 1969.

But it's what happened in the 45 years since Mario's victory that plays into the idea the Andretti family is cursed by the 2.5-mile oval that plays host to the biggest open-wheel race in the world.

On numerous occasions Mario found himself in contention for a second Indy win only to see it slip away for a reason out of his control. That tradition carried on to Michael, who is 10th all-time in laps led at Indy -- the most of any driver without a victory, though he owns two wins as a car owner.

The cruel fate of misfortune shared by father and son intertwined in 1992 when Mario and younger son Jeff both were involved in accidents that sent each to the hospital with injuries. All the while Michael continued his march, leading 160 laps and holding a 30-second lead. But, 11 laps from the finish, he slowed suddenly with a fuel pump failure.

That may have been the day the "Andretti Curse" took root.

"Here I am on the sidelines feeling sorry for myself and here Jeff comes (into the hospital) with life-threatening injuries," Mario said. "What kept us sustained through all that was Michael leading and going away.

"Then, because I was all drugged up, I fell asleep with Michael leading. But when I woke up no one is congratulating me. Then I found out Michael dropped out and I thought, ‘Oh gosh.' It was one of those days I told the kids, ‘If we survived this we can survive anything.'"

Proving the Indy misfortune hadn't skipped a generation, grandson Marco experienced his own repeated misfortunes since debuting at Indy in 2006.

In storybook fashion, Marco, a rookie, seized the lead from his father with three laps remaining. Seemingly, the stars were aligning for the family.

Then, it was gone. Out of Turn 4 and headed to the checkered flag, Sam Hornish Jr. darted to the inside and flashed by. "Definitely a tough one," said the 27-year-old Thursday.

The same frustration resonated six years later when Marco led a race-high 59 laps. But when trying to complete a pass of Oriol Servia 13 circuits from the finish, Marco's car jumped out from underneath him. He crashed into the Turn 1 wall.

It's those incidents that cause Marco to acknowledge that maybe Indianapolis has it out for his family, and why a win Sunday would mean so much.

"I think zero wins since ‘69 has fueled this family more than you can believe," Marco said. "I think it's just built-up wanting to get the monkey off our back. It would be such a huge relief for the family. I think we would all break down crying, reliving all the past memories here."

In what has been an uneven career, a win of any kind for Marco, who starts sixth Sunday, would do wonders.

Now in his eighth season in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Marco has recorded just two victories in 137 starts. This, despite driving for his father's Andretti Autosport team, which in the same span has fielded cars for drivers who have combined to win 25 races, including two Indy 500s, and a pair of series championships.

But Indy, a track where Marco is always at his best, represents an excellent chance to win for both himself and his family.

"It would be a life-changer for me," Marco said. "It would just take my career to the next level. ... I want nothing more than to add my name to the list of (Indy 500) champions."