Andretti Has Resurgence At Iowa Speedway

Wednesday, June 27th 2007, 11:53 am
By: News On 6

NEWTON, Iowa (AP) _ Waking up with a nasty cold was the last thing Marco Andretti needed as he tried to snap out of his sophomore slump.

The 2006 IndyCar Series rookie of the year, who had been knocked out of five straight races, was slotted 12th for the start of Sunday's Iowa Corn Indy 250. Then a cold threatened to rob him of the stamina he would need on the physically demanding short oval at Iowa Speedway. But once the race started, things began going his way.

One by one, the top drivers in the IndyCar Series found themselves out of the running, as the Iowa Speedway's new high-speed oval combined with the weather to knock them out before the 100-lap mark. For once, Andretti avoided trouble and completed the race.

He made a spirited charge at Dario Franchitti down the stretch and finished second, 0.0681 seconds behind his Andretti Green Racing teammate. It was just Andretti's second top-10 finish this year, breathing life into a season that, only hours before, had looked like a lost cause.

``I just needed to finish, man,'' said Andretti, who moved up to 14th in the points standings out of 20 drivers. ``I'm happy to be second, of course, but no confidence lost here.''

Andretti is hoping his strong performance will carry over to Sunday's SunTrust Indy Challenge in Richmond, Va., where the track mirrors the Rusty Wallace-designed oval in Iowa. He finished fourth at Richmond last year in one of the highlight performances of his standout rookie season.

Until Iowa, however, Andretti couldn't keep his No. 26 car out of trouble.

He had a scary crash three laps from the finish of the rain-shortened Indy 500 in May. He crashed again at Milwaukee, and mechanical woes in Texas capped a stretch during which he had one finish in seven starts.

Andretti's luck changed at Iowa, where he was one of the few drivers who benefited from the demolition madness that began soon after the green flag fell. Polesitter Scott Dixon fishtailed through a turn on the opening lap, and Tony Kanaan did the same 84 laps later. Danica Patrick's brief run at her first IndyCar win ended on the 99th lap, when she hit Ed Carpenter and kicked off a collision that knocked four cars out of contention.

Race organizers had expected temperatures to reach 90 degrees, and the tires selected for warm weather made for hard and slippery racing when conditions became cool and overcast.

Andretti was able to avoid all three crashes, which knocked out eight of the top-10 drivers in the points standings. He made his move into second with 100 laps to go, but Franchitti slowly pushed his lead over Andretti to over five seconds. He sealed his win in part by taking only fuel during his final pit stop.

Franchitti came away impressed by Andretti's performance, which came under less than ideal conditions.

``I know he wasn't feeling good, so with the physical aspect of this track, I think he did a fantastic job,'' Franchitti said. ``He needed that finish just because of bad luck and the trials and tribulations of his season.''

Ironically, it was the veteran Franchitti who had helped him bounce back. Andretti set his car up like Franchitti's following a disappointing practice session Saturday.

``I said to Dario (winning) is just what he needed for points. He said this is just what I needed, too. He's completely right,'' Andretti said.