Ithe Brickyard:/I Andretti Goes Home To Indy

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    John Andretti knows Indianapolis Motor Speedway like few other NASCAR Winston Cup drivers do.

    He fondly remembers days going down the street to the Speedway to watch Uncle Mario or some family friends race at the track. As a young child none of it seemed so special. It wasn’t until he began his own driving career that he began to love the Speedway

    "I grew up right down the street from the speedway, and went to high school less then two miles from the race track," he said. "Kids used to jump out the windows and walk down to the track during the month of May. Of course, I couldn’t do that because the teachers knew who I was. I would sometimes get them passes, though, to try to con them to cancel class. That worked out pretty well too."

    For Andretti the Speedway holds special meaning. But, he says, if you take the history away from the track, it really isn’t much to look at.

    "Its pretty hard to understand the significance of how important the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is," Andretti said. "From a fan’s standpoint it’s not a great spectator race track. I don’t think that there is one seat in the place where you can see the entire race track. Even at a place like Talladega you can see the whole race track. It’s the Brickyard that carries the mystique, and it is so unique. There will never be a track like it again."

    If any NASCAR driver is qualified to comment on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s Andretti. No single driver in NASCAR has more laps at Indy than Andretti, who has competed numerous times in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400.

    Andretti is one of only two drivers in motorsports history to have won at least two NASCAR Winston Cup races, as well as winning a major Indy car race (the 1991 Gold Coast Grand Prix in Australia) and a major professional road race (his highlight win being the 1989 24 Hours of Daytona). In 1994, Andretti became the first driver to run both the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte and Indianapolis 500 in the same day - and has still completed more laps at Indianapolis than anyone trying the "double."

    So, the question is, after all those years and all that love for the track, does Andretti know the key to winning there? Maybe.

    "The track is a huge Martinsville. When you look at it and think about it, Indy is just a big short track. The corners are short track corners and the straightaways are big track straightaways. To win you need to find the balance. Indianapolis is like a golf game. You get one good shot and you think that you can start to figure everything out, but just that quick it can go against you. The track is very sensitive to everything because it’s so flat and so fast. You can be right one minute and then way off the next," he said.

    "Track position over the last three years at this race has become more and more critical, and the pit stops have a lot to do with that. There has been times when the car that wasn’t the fastest has won the Brickyard 400. The guy who got out front was too hard to pass. Getting good air is important. Having good air at this track will make you good enough to stay ahead of a lot of drivers. Hopefully after the last pit stop, it will be the Cheerios/STP Pontiac that will be up front, because I know that we will have a good enough car to stay there."

    Although Andretti thinks Indy rests in the back of every race care drivers mind, he can understand that some NASCAR drivers don’t get goosebumps when they drive down the main straightway for the first time.

    "My whole life has been the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Of course, it hasn’t been the Brickyard 400, but the Indy 500. The Daytona 500 is the dream of every stock car driver. For somebody growing up around Indianapolis, the Indianapolis 500 has been my dream. Am I supposed to alter my dreams, or have others alter theirs? If mine has changed any it’s been the dream to win the Brickyard 400. To me the Indy 500 is still very important, but I think that anything that happens at Indy is big. In importance, it will change with each individual driver, but to me Indianapolis is very important," he said.

    "I think I take it more personally then any other driver in the garage. You take a look around at guys like Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon, their goal was probably the Indy 500, but the Brickyard 400 was there too by the time they came up the ranks.

    With the recent renovations to the track, some say the allure to the track went away with the old, but not Andretti.

    "It’s great the way they took down the old and constructed the new to have it look
    like the original speedway," he said. "I can remember running around the garages as a kid, and no one in Winston Cup knows what those old garages were like. The big doors, it was nothing you could ever imagine - like putting Indy cars in a big barn. The track has grown up, but it is always an improvement. You have to congratulate a man like Tony George for all his efforts at the speedway the last 10 years. There have been many changes, but it’s still Indianapolis."

    While the name Andretti and open-wheel racing will stay married for many years to come, he admits the family hasn’t really dominated at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. At least not like the names A.J. Foyt or Al Unser. According to Andretti, you never forget it when you race there and no one forgets you once you win.

    "There is a reward for everything at Indy, and just driving around the track my chest kind of bulges out, knowing that I have been one of the privileged people to have raced there," he said.

    With John Andretti only 37-years-old and cousin Michael Andretti tearing up the CART FedEx Series, there may be time to win at Indy again.

    "The Andrettis should have more recognition then what we do at Indy," John Andretti said. "Michael should have won there before. I think Mario should have won more than one
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