AUTO RACING NOTEBOOK: Andretti hopes to finally end family curse at Indy; Hamlin wins Charlotte pole with record run

According to folklore, the Andretti clan’s bad luck at the Indianapolis 500, billed as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” began when Mario was kissed on the cheek by car owner Andy Granatelli following his 1969 triumph. Marco Andretti, above, takes the latest shot Sunday.

According to folklore, the Andretti clan’s bad luck at the Indianapolis 500, billed as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” began when Mario was kissed on the cheek by car owner Andy Granatelli following his 1969 triumph. Marco Andretti, above, takes the latest shot Sunday.

INDIANAPOLIS — It was media day at the Indianapolis 500 on Thursday, and Marco Andretti knew the question was coming before it was even asked.

What about the Andretti curse?

For Marco, grandson of former Formula One champion Mario Andretti and son of IndyCar champion and team owner Michael, the family name is both a blessing and curse when it comes to racing at the famed Brickyard.

American motor racing royalty, the Andrettis have ruled over open wheel racing in the United States with a string of victories that has linked generations.

Yet for all their success, the Andretti clan can count just one Indy 500 victory as the Brickyard has produced nothing but heartbreak for the family since Mario’s triumph in 1969.

“I can tell you, when you are out front leading this race you are always thinking about it (the curse),” Marco said Thursday. “You just hope there is not an element that is going to take you out of it. As a family, as a competitor it is frustrating, 70-plus drives and one victory but as human beings we are lucky we’re all healthy and still have a great shot at winning this race.

“We never really address it as a curse but there have been plenty of dinner conversations talking about how it just slipped away from all three of us.”

According to folklore, the Andretti clan’s bad luck at the Indianapolis 500, billed as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” began when Mario was kissed on the cheek by car owner Andy Granatelli following his 1969 triumph.

Mario raced in 29 Indy 500s and Michael 16. Mario’s nephew John Andretti contested 12 Indy 500s while Jeff Andretti, Mario’s youngest son, could not break the curse in three attempts at the Brickyard.

Michael Andretti, who had 42 IndyCar wins during his driving career, led more laps than any other driver never to win the Indy, crossing second once and third twice.

“It is a story, 70-plus starts and one victory is frustrating,” said Marco. “Just looking at my career I could have won three of these already. I think if we are victorious and able to win one all of our frustrations as a family are going to come out in that moment.”

Las Vegas oddsmakers apparently give little credence to the Andretti hex having installed Marco as the betting favorite for Sunday’s race.

Driving for the team owned by his father, Marco will start on the outside of Row One, his best starting position in a 500.

“I’ve never wanted something so bad in my life,” said Marco, who finished runnerup in his Indy 500 debut in 2006 and crossed third in 2008 and 2010. “Nobody could put more pressure on me than I am already putting on myself. It’s always nice to be one of the favorites but I’m not foolish, I’m not over confident, I think we have a great shot at winning but we have to go out and do it.”

WOMEN PEPPER INDY FIELD: The 33 car field for the Indianapolis 500 was set last Sunday with women drivers claiming three of the nine spots on offer on Bump Day.

Brazil’s Ana Beatriz and Britain’s Pippa Mann and Katherine Legge joined Swiss Simona De Silvestro, who was among the 24 cars that qualified last Saturday for Sunday’s race.

“I’m much happier than I was this time yesterday (Saturday),” said Mann, who failed to earn a spot on Pole Day at the famed Brickyard. “This was a nice, clean run.

“We almost had four really nice clean laps ... I’m happy right now, much less stressed than I was (before qualifying).”

Beatriz qualified 29th and will start in the middle of Row 10, while her Dale Coyne Racing stable mate Mann will go from 30th spot on the grid.

Legge, whose deal to race at Indy came together just before qualifying, was 33rd-fastest and then waited nervously to see if she would be bumped from the last spot by a faster car.

“Relief,” summed up Legge after the Bump Day action came to an end. “Obviously it’s not nice to do it in that manner; I feel bad for Michel (Jourdain Jr.). It’s not nice for him to not have the opportunity.

“However, I am happy I am in the field. I’m not going to lie about that. I’m going to sleep (well) for the first time in a few days.”

American Ed Carpenter upstaged IndyCar’s biggest names and teams, beating out an eight car challenge from Team Penske and Andretti Autosport to grab the pole for the 97th Indianapolis 500.

Carpenter, IndyCar’s only owner/driver, delivered the big surprise at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, clocking a four-lap average speed of 228.762 mph in his Chevrolet powered Dallara around the sprawling 2.5-mile oval to take the first spot in the front row ahead of another surprise package rookie Colombian Carlos Munoz.

Record lap time puts Hamlin on Charlotte pole

CONCORD, N.C. -- For Denny Hamlin, Thursday’s late-night qualifying session at Charlotte Motor Speedway felt like a victory — and it came from pushing his car to the absolute limit.

Hamlin, who missed four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races this season because of a compression fraction to his first lumbar vertebra, took advantage of a lightning-fast car and a late draw to win the pole for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 in record time.

One of eight drivers to beat the previous track record, Hamlin covered the 1.5-mile distance in 27.604 seconds (195.624 mph) to knock Kurt Busch (195.221 mph) off the provisional pole. Matt Kenseth (195.094 mph) qualified third, followed by Mark Martin (194.595 mph) and Clint Bowyer (194.503 mph).

Toyota drivers claimed four of the top five spots.

The Coors Light pole award was Hamlin’s first at Charlotte, his second of the season and the 14th of his career. Hamlin converted three of his previous 13 poles into victories, and a win is what Hamlin feels he needs to show he’s back in top form after the injury.

“Getting the big trophy on Sunday is the validation that you’re truly back,” Hamlin said. “For me, it’s going to take wins and a lot of really good consistency throughout these summer months to put ourselves in a position to have a chance at a championship.

“That’s what we’re here for. Even these small victories, though, give me that confidence that I’m still capable — able to do the job at 100 percent like I should be. Any kind of confidence booster for me, it’s always a plus on Sunday.”

Kasey Kahne qualified sixth, followed by Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 11th and series leader Jimmie Johnson 12th.

Kurt Busch knew he missed his marks slightly in Turns 3 and 4 — and ultimately paid the price.

“I just didn’t quite hit my mark exactly right in 3 and 4, and I knew that we might get beat by somebody,” he said. “I was just hoping I’d get a gift, but Denny Hamlin laid it down, and it was incredible to watch. His car hugged the line in 3 and 4, exactly like you’d watch cars back in the day, like when Jeff Gordon in the ’90s would hunt that white line.

“It was awesome. You knew that was going to be a fast lap. I didn’t do my job, but my (Furniture Row) team is doing an incredible job--fast cars week in and week out.”

Kyle Busch was first to break the record qualifying run of 193.708 mph that Biffle posted last October. He toured the 1.5-mile track in 27.842 seconds (193.952 mph) to land his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota on the provisional pole.

But Kyle didn’t have to be a prophet to know that drivers who followed him in cooler conditions would surpass him -- and the first to do so was his brother. Biffle supplanted Kyle from the second spot and Martin followed shortly thereafter, knocking him back to fourth.

That order held until Hamlin, the 40th driver to make a run, became the sixth driver to beat the previous record.