Andretti happy to silence critics
During an Izod IndyCar Series winless streak that lasted nearly five years, Marco Andretti felt plenty of pressure. None of it, he says, stemmed from his famous last name.
|IndyCar needs Marco to put the Andretti name in the Winner's Circle on a regular basis|
The third-generation driver shed that burden when he took a half-season sabbatical as a 9-year-old who raced go-karts with a heavy crown of expectations upon his head as the grandson of Mario Andretti and son of Michael Andretti— two of the sport's greats.
"I viewed it as, 'Oh man, this is killing me,'" Andretti recalled Tuesday. "I'd win races and say, 'OK, that's what I had to do,' instead of really enjoying myself.
"I was winning, but I put so much added, unnecessary pressure on myself. So I stopped, just to almost test my father and grandfather. They stood back and said I didn't have to do it. When I got back into it, I had to set everything up on my own to prove that I wanted to do it for myself. I've been loving it ever since."
The joy remained even during the 78-race drought that ended Saturday night at Iowa Speedway. When he won in the 13th start of his career at Infineon Raceway in August 2006, Andretti was tagged as the potential face of the series.
Five years later, Andretti, 24, still could inherit that role with Andretti Autosport teammate Danica Patrick mulling a full-time move to NASCAR next year. But because of the lack of success in the interim, he had to answer many questions about his commitment, focus and attitude.
"The win was more bittersweet," he said. "It wasn't just for my own confidence, but to quiet some of my critics. Mostly fans. There's a lot of doubters. Obviously, I had big shoes to fill.
"But don't get me wrong. I don't want to win because they want it. I want to win because I do."
His father and team owner has borne some responsibility for the criticism, having supported his son embracing his celebrity (Marco Andretti appeared this year on Paris Hilton's reality show).
"Everyone thinks he's partying," Michael Andretti said earlier in the season. "They just don't know. It looks that way, but he's so focused. He's not about that at all. I encourage it, because it's so important for not only us and him, but the sport to get mainstream exposure."
Says Marco: "I'm definitely often misperceived. I'm very shy and maybe overly focused on the job. I'll walk by a fan or two and not even realize it. I love every one of them, but fans are tough. You can sign 100 autographs, but the 101st who doesn't get one might hate you."
Andretti says he has made a conscious effort to give fans more to like this year by being more approachable at the track and more contemplative and less critical in interviews.
"I'm not going to show up feeling bad for myself anymore," he said. "I'm going to show up at every race and say, 'If these other drivers want to win, they're going to have to beat me.' That alone puts a smile on my face." USA Today