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Unser And Another Andretti Added To Indy Field

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ An Unser and another Andretti are in the tentative field for the 91st Indianapolis 500 _ naturally.

Except this isn't the heyday of open-wheel racing, when those two families were the biggest names in the sport and their inclusion in the big race was all but a foregone conclusion.

This time, Al Unser Jr. and John Andretti had to drive other people's backup cars and put them into the 33-car field on the second weekend of qualifying.

Unser, 45 and a recovering alcoholic, climbed into A.J. Foyt's second car last week and had one qualifying run bumped out of the tentative lineup last Sunday. He came back Saturday, the third of four days of time trials for the May 27 race, to post a four-lap, 10-mile run of 220.876 mph that all but assured him of starting his 19th 500.

``The run was pretty good,'' Unser said, smiling. ``I'm a tenth (of a second) slower than I was last Sunday, but the conditions were a little bit worse today, with lots of wind in turn one and real loose (conditions) in turn two.''

His first three laps were very consistent, between 220.2 and 220.8. But the two-time Indy winner's final lap jumped to 221.6.

``The last lap, I let it loose, opened it up and ran a good lap,'' Unser said. ``I was happy because we were getting faster every lap and I'm just glad it's in. I was a little careful with it because I could go out there and run a 225 and start 24th. We're in back, so I was a little careful with it in the wind.''

Andretti, who has spent the past 13 years racing in NASCAR, didn't get his ride in the third Panther Racing car until earlier this week. With some help in setting up the car from teammate Vitor Meira _ who is already in the field with Kosuke Matsuura, the third Panther driver _ Andretti was even stronger. He turned an average of 221.756 to qualify for his eighth Indy start and first since 1994.

The two veteran racers were among the early qualifiers Saturday, trying to fill the final 11 spots in the Indy lineup. Once it is full, any non-qualified cars will still have a chance to bump out the slowest qualifiers until the end of Sunday's final session of time trials.

Other third-day qualifiers included Roger Yasukawa at 222.654, rookie Milka Duno at 219.228 _ joining Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher in the lineup _ and Marty Roth at 218.922. Jon Herb, bumped twice last week, failed to complete a qualifying run over 218 when his team chose to wave off the attempt as he drove down the final straightaway.

Each car is allowed up to three completed qualifying runs on each day of time trials. Each of the first two speeds must be withdrawn if a driver chooses to try again.

Unser joined Foyt's full-time driver Darren Manning, one of 22 first-week qualifiers, in the lineup. Foyt, who drove to four Indy wins and was owner of another winning car, is celebrating his 50th year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

``With A.J. Foyt working on my car, we're having a lot of fun,'' Unser said. ``Getting to talking to him and work with him is something I really am enjoying.''

The 44-year-old Andretti, the first of several drivers to run both the Indy 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, has been hoping to get back to Indy in May since that day in 1994. But it didn't take him long to get back into the swing of things on the tough 2.5-mile oval.

``It's one thing to want to do it, but it's another thing to get all the pieces to come together,'' said Andretti, who joins cousins Michael and Marco in the field.

``Vitor set up the car and made it very easy for me,'' he added. ``This team is so well-prepared. They just said, 'Here's your car. Tell us what you need. The car's right there.' It's such a solid starting point.''

Asked how tough it is to be back in an IndyCar after such a long absence, Andretti shrugged and said, ``I've been racing. It's not like I've been sitting idle for 13 years and just decided to come back racing. It's just learning the cars, just learning everything in the cockpit to be comfortable.''

Unser, who won here in 1992 and 1994, said Andretti will do just fine on race day.

``I think he's going to enjoy it,'' Unser said. ``The formula of the cars we drive now is very different. They do handle better than the cars that we ran back in the '90s. You can feel these cars and feel when they're going off, and they're safer in every aspect.

``For John, he's going to have a good time out there and enjoy himself.''

Other drivers hoping to get into the field Saturday included Jaques Lazier, Alex Barron, Roberto Moreno, P.J. Jones, rookie Phil Giebler and Jimmy Kite. Richie Hearn was signed to drive for Hemelgarn Racing Professionals on Saturday and had not been on track by midafternoon.
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