By: Tanner Watkins
May 13, 2019 | 9:00 AM
Let’s get the elephant out of the room right off the bat – qualifying has been the Achilles heel for Marco Andretti and the No. 98 U.S. Concrete team this season.
In each of the first five races during this 2019 season, Andretti has yet to qualify inside the top ten for a race, and in four of those five races he has failed to reach the second round of qualifications. Twice he has started 20th or worse, and in the one race he qualified a season-best 11th, Andretti finished the race two positions back of where he started.
Okay, that was the bad news. The good news? In the race we have seen a series of resilient, scratch-and-claw drives from Marco in 2019.
In the three times that Andretti has qualified 17th or worse in 2019, those races have resulted in an average positions gained value of 9.3. When the No. 98 car qualified 20th at Circuit of the Americas, Marco turned in his best finish of the season by placing sixth when all was said and done.
On Saturday, Andretti rallied from his worst qualifying performance of 2019 (23rd) to gain 10 spots over the course of the race and finish 13th. At the end of the day, Andretti recognized his crew for their hard work and reluctantly accepted another midpack finish. He did provide one caveat, though: The current qualifying from cannot continue.
“It was just one of those ‘hang in there’ type of races,” said Andretti on a chilly Indianapolis Motor Speedway pit lane. “The U.S. Concrete / Curb guys did a good job in the pits. We seemed to be on the right tires at the right time for the conditions and maximized what we were dealt.
“We can’t keep qualifying where we’ve been. We advanced 10 positions, but that is still not a great result in the end.”
Indeed, the 13th place result isn’t what Andretti or any other member of his team will be particularly excited about. Furthermore, Andretti currently finds himself in the middle of the pack in the NTT IndyCar Series points race, also placed 13th on that leaderboard.
So now the attention turns to the big one – the Indianapolis 500. The great equalizer for any previous results, upsets or disappointments that preceded the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. This is the perfect storm for Andretti – a hard reset ahead of the race where he has arguably been his most competitive.
Andretti has raced well despite his qualifying misfortune in 2019, and Bryan Herta has done a fine job atop the No. 98 pit box despite their issues this season. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a way of rewarding those who persevere, and it is safe to say that Andretti’s 2019 team has gone through a season’s worth of disappointment already.
Don’t be surprised if Andretti finds his way into the Fast Nine with a shot at the pole next weekend, or is in contention during the closing stages of the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26. For all the conversation swirling around Marco this year, one thing is for certain: He is due.
It could perhaps be the perfect storm for the Andretti family on the 50th anniversary of their only triumph in this ruthless race. In two weeks’ time, we will see if the Speedway has granted any mercy.
Header image by Tanner Watkins/Open-Wheels.com
Open-Wheels coverage of the 2019 month of May at Indianapolis is presented by Driven 2 Save Lives. Driven 2 Save Lives, an entity of the Indiana Donor Network, is a program that utilizes motorsports as a platform to encourage race fans to become organ donors. Currently, there are 114,000 individuals that are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Register as an organ, tissue, and eye donor at Driven2SaveLives.org/register and follow Driven2SaveLives on Facebook and Twitter.