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Ben Smith

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Predicting an end to the curse

– Ah, flying in the face of history. Now there’s a thrill ride for you.

Like the running of the bulls in Pamplona or playing dodge ball with Jarts, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye or takes a horn to the spleen. Then you realize it’s too late to think this through one more time.

And so here I come to race morning in Indianapolis, hoping history’s aim is a bit off.

History, see, tells me there are certain things you do not do when you hang around the Indianapolis 500.

You don’t pick anyone in the last row to win because, in 96 races, no one’s ever won from there. You don’t pick a rookie because only eight rookies have won, and only three since 1927. And you do not, uh-uh, no way, pick anyone named Andretti.

Indy is to an Andretti what green Kryptonite is to Superman. It’s whatever the opposite of spinach is, and they’re Popeye.

Picking an Andretti to win the Indianapolis 500 is like picking the anonymous crewman to survive a trip to the planet’s surface with Kirk, Spock and McCoy. You know it ain’t happenin’.

Which goes absolutely nowhere in explaining why, I am, in fact, picking the anonymous crewman this time around. So to speak.

I’m thinking this is Marco Andretti’s year in a place where Andrettis don’t really have Years, and history can fling all the Jarts at me it wants. I know every one by heart.

I know Marco’s grandfather, Mario, won only once here in 29 tries, even though he was perhaps the most accomplished racer of his generation. And I know his father, Michael, the owner of Marco’s race team, never won here in 16 starts, despite leading 431 laps -- two more than four-time winner Rick Mears.

And Marco himself?

His rookie year, 2006, he had the race bagged and tagged until Sam Hornish Jr. passed him less than 200 yards from the finish. The next year he led 13 laps but crashed, finishing 24th.

In 2008, he finished third. In 2009, handling issues took him out early. In 2010, 2011, and 2012 he finished third, ninth and 24th – hitting the wall last year after leading more laps (59) than any driver.

The last sounds eerily familiar, of course. I don’t care. I’m picking him anyway.

I’m picking him because, while numbers might plead the fifth every so often, they hardly ever lie outright, and the numbers say Marco’s having the best season right now.

He comes to the 500 second in the IndyCar points, having finished in the top ten in all four races. He’s completed every lap available to him. And he comes here with a race team that’s won three of four races and qualified five cars in the first three rows for the 500.

For Andretti Autosport, James Hinchcliffe has won twice. Defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay has won once.

Seems like it’s Marco’s turn.

And, yeah, I get it, Andrettis never get turns at Indianapolis.

But the counter to that is Marco always runs well here. He’s led at least a lap in five of seven previous starts. He’s finished in the top three three times. And today, he starts his eighth 500 on the outside of the front row, his best starting spot ever.

Heck. Even Vegas likes him: He goes off at 7-1, the co-favorite with Scott Dixon.

I’m not about to argue with Vegas. Marco it is, and history be hanged.

Excuse me while I duck.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.