Let Marco Decide When to Quit

geothumbnail
With the silly season still in full force, there has been a popular theme going around by fans suggesting that Marco Andretti should hang up his helmet and give up his seat for a more deserving driver.

If you are a fan of stick and ball sports, you may feel like you have a vested interest in the team – especially if you are a season ticket holder. You pay out a lot of money for those tickets each year. Consequently, if a player or coach is not performing up to expectations – the season ticket holders feel that they are stakeholders in the team and should have a say-so. In reality, they really don’t – but they can voice their displeasure with their wallets by not putting up the cash for the next season.

In racing, it’s different – very different. Fans support a series or a track, but other than buying team merchandise – there is no direct financial link between fans and a team or driver.

With that in mind, I’m wondering why fans seem to think they should have any say-so in whether or not Marco continues driving or not.

Keep in mind – Marco is part-owner of that car. Conceivably, he could drive the No. 98 car for another twenty years or more if he wanted to.

Over the years, I’ve probably said twice as many disparaging remarks about Marco Andretti’s driving career than positive comments – mostly in fun, albeit it at his expense. But I’ve also written about what immense pressure he must feel every time he climbs into the cockpit – whether it is at tracks like Laguna Seca where sections of the track bear the name Andretti in honor of his grandfather Mario; or places like Toronto, where his father Michael won seven times.

Marco Andretti just completed his fourteenth full-time IndyCar season. In fourteen seasons, he has two wins (Sonoma in 2006, and Iowa in 2011) and twenty podiums. The twenty podiums sounds fairly decent until you realize his last podium finish came in June of 2015, when he finished third at Fontana.

Marco’s best finish in the points battle came in 2013, when he finished fifth. This past season, he tied for his worst finish at sixteenth, as he also did in 2012 and 2016. Marco’s best finish this season was sixth, which he did twice – at COTA and the Saturday race at Belle Isle. He also had twelve races in a seventeen-race season, where he finished thirteenth or worse. These are just facts and the stats indicate that Marco has regressed over his career.

But to suggest that Marco Andretti needs to hang up his helmet when – (a) he is part-owner of the car he is driving and (b) his father owns the team his car is still technically aligned with – is ludicrous.

More than a decade ago, car-owner Marty Roth was also a regular owner-driver in the series. Fans called for him to step aside and let a promising newcomer drive in his car. But there’s a big difference between Marty Roth in 2008 and Marco Andretti today. Marty Roth was considered a menace behind the wheel and a danger to other drivers. Marco is not.

Say what you will about Marco and his desire to push the envelope, or lack thereof – but one thing you can’t deny is that he has talent. We’ve seen it on display on an occasional basis. If anything, Marco may be too cautious. There have been many times that Marco has had such an ill-handling car, that he has just parked the car rather than risk injury to himself or his fellow drivers. We’ve heard drivers complain about some of their competitors as they question their competence. I may be wrong, but I can’t recall a single driver complaining about Marco’s ability as a driver and questioning if he is competent enough to be out there.

Marco Andretti is not a menace. After fourteen seasons, I think we all know what Marco is and what he isn’t. Believe me, Marco knows as well. I think by now, he realizes he will probably never be an IndyCar champion and whenever he does call it a career – he’ll most likely never need two hands to count his total IndyCar victories. Who knows? He may never need more than two fingers.

He may be considered a disappointment in the eyes of his fans and a few over-aged bloggers; but his family has never turned on him. I’m sure they just want to make sure he is happy where he is. Some fans have suggested that Marco looks miserable out there. I disagree. I think that Marco is now more at peace with himself than at any point in his career. He doesn’t need this for the money, and he certainly doesn’t do it to please his family.

Not every driver wears their emotions on their sleeves. Not every driver tweets about how they can’t wait to get back in the car. Just because they don’t tweet it, doesn’t mean they don’t feel it. I can empathize with Marco in that regard. Sometimes, my wife thinks I’m something of a cold fish because I don’t cry at the drop of a hat. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, I just don’t always show my emotions outwardly. I think Marco gets a bum rap for the same thing. Just because he doesn’t yell and scream out of joy or displeasure, doesn’t mean he’s not passionate about racing.

If Marco wasn’t passionate about racing, he wouldn’t continue for this long. I think he actually loves racing. I think he is also very talented. For whatever reason, he hasn’t been successful at it – but I don’t question his passion. A few years ago I did, but I don’t now. If he weren’t passionate about it, he wouldn’t risk his life for as long as he has and he wouldn’t buy into the team he drives for.

No one knows what makes another individual tick. I don’t pretend to know what makes Marco tick and some of you may have trouble figuring out what makes me tick. If Marco enjoys being out there and he’s not considered a hazard by the other drivers – what does he hurt by continuing on in the car?

In my opinion, the NTT IndyCar Series is better off having an Andretti in the field. The name is synonymous with IndyCar racing. And you know what? When the car is right, Marco is exciting to watch – especially on an oval and more specifically, in the Indianapolis 500.

It was painful to watch Marco this past May, because the car wasn’t right. It was the fiftieth anniversary of his grandfather’s lone Indianapolis win and Marco was driving a tribute car resembling the car Mario won in back in 1969.

Marco started tenth, but dropped like a stone from the drop of the green flag. He made twelve pit stops that day. For comparison sake, the winning car of Simon Pagenaud made only six stops. Marco finished twenty-sixth in this year’s Indianapolis 500 and was five laps down at the end and was the last car running. It was a dismal day from the beginning for the third generation driver.

But when he’s on, he’s on. In fourteen Indianapolis 500 starts, Marco Andretti has six Top-Six finishes, including a second, three thirds, a fourth and a sixth-place finish. Included in that is the unforgettable near-win as a rookie in 2006, when Sam Hornish passed him at the line. But there are also four Indianapolis 500 finishes where Marco finished twenty-fourth or worse. When he’s off, he’s off.

Although next year will be his fifteenth season, Marco Andretti is still only thirty-two years old. As crazy as this sounds after reviewing his lackluster resume, I still think there is a very good chance that he will win an Indianapolis 500 before he’s done.

Marco Andretti is an easy target for lowly bloggers like myself and keyboard warriors that are quick to criticize in anonymity when there are no consequences for their words. They like to criticize his presence in the series as if it is costing them money or it’s preventing their favorite Indy Lights driver from getting a ride. We fans probably set very unrealistic expectations on him while he was still a teenager. When he didn’t live up to them, we turned on him relentlessly.

I say “we” because I, too, have been guilty of being harshly critical of Marco, probably to the extent of being unfair. All indications are that he is a good guy and is very popular with his fellow drivers within the paddock, but he is a little hesitant to open up to the fans. Can you blame him? I may very well be critical here of Marco in the future, but one thing you will never hear me say or see me write – is that he should pull himself out of the car. It’s his car and his career. Let him decide when to do that.

George Phillips

14 Responses to “Let Marco Decide When to Quit”

  1. We all know what makes George tick, tenderloins and race cars at IMS. 😀

    • I hope Marco’s at peace with the 2006 race. Hornish was SO much quicker and Marco did everything perfect to hold him off as long as he did. Nothing to hang his head about, then or now.

  2. Amen to this George. Well stated. There is one thing that would keep me racing if I were Marco, particularly at IMS, and that is the heartbreaking memory of the last lap Hornish pass.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Marco would probably face less criticism if he raced for any other team than his father’s. I mean, the subsequent Vukoviches and Bettenhausens never really lived up to their patriarchs but didn’t receive the kind of guff that Marco does… and none of them raced for their parents (for obvious and sad reasons, but still).

    Nevertheless, Marco’s rides have likely long existed because Marco was the driver behind the wheel. Rarely are drivers swapped in and out of sponsored rides in today’s Indycar, if the driver doesn’t explicitly bring the sponsor then they are a big part of why the team was able to land the sponsor. I would be shocked if Marco did not work at all on acquiring and retaining his sponsors.

    On Marco’s low-key public personality, it is not all that different from his father’s or grandfather’s, especially Michael’s. Michael was one of the driest driver interviews I can recall, and Mario generally kept an even keel though he knew when to deploy a smirk or a cutting remark.

  4. Marco Andretti is still capable of being a force on any oval track. It’s just that there are less of these on the calendar now than when he started out. I wouldn’t rate him too highly on the “twisties” but there are quite a few of these tracks where he is good. He is driving for one of my favourite teams, so I wish him the best of success. I guess all or most IndyCar fans are happy when he is successful because people like him.

  5. Mark Wick Says:

    I agree with you George. I remember Marco, after that near miss his rookie year at Indy, saying that he knew Sam was coming and that he could move over, but he didn’t want to wreck both cars. We remember several times Marco has been upside down at the beginning of races after tangles in the starting pack. We also remember times he has shown amazing skill driving his way out of seemingly impossible situations. I don’t remember his ever experiencing any significant injury, unlike his grandfather, father, uncle, and cousins.
    It seems to me he has always had the same approach to racing as he had in that first Indy 500. He is playing it safe.

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      It has been said that Marco prefers to be remembered as a responsible and respected driver rather than being remembered as being the driver, who in order to win the INDY 500, drove ‘dirty” and purposely blocked Sam out of the 4th turn at Indy or put Sam into the wall (as Emmo did to Al, Jr.).

      Marco is a true sportsman and has grown into a spokesperson for INDY Car.

  6. “I can’t recall a single driver complaining about Marco’s ability as a driver and questioning if he is competent enough to be out there.”

    No *current* driver has, but a past one who now comments from the booth said something cutting about Marco and Uber. I don’t necessarily agree with him, but fair or not, that’s the sort of comment that contributes to the general framing of Marco’s performances in the media.

    Personally, I agree with George: If Marco feels like driving till he actually goes gray, then more power to him.

  7. I don’t think fans dislike Marco, they were just spoiled by the superb talents of Dad and Grandpa. Maybe Jarret Andretti will get a chance at Indy or in 16 to 20 years there’s Michael’s son Mario!

  8. I’m glad you wrote about this topic George. Years ago when I used to read Trackforum, there were always people complaining that Michael was wasting a good seat on his son, and he should have provided an opportunity to a more deserving driver. The theory that Michael providing a seat for Marco prevented opportunities for other drivers enraged me. Think about it. For one, Indy Lights probably would have shuttered years ago if not for Andretti Autosport. Two, consider this: Kanaan’s lone championship came driving for AA. Wheldon’s first “500” and lone championship came driving for AA. Prior to cementing his hall of fame career driving for Ganassi, Dario’s first championship and first “500” came driving for AA. Hunter-Reay, a series nomad who was one and half feet out the door of an Indycar career, hooked up with AA and won a “500” and a championship. Rossi a “500.” Sato a “500”. If anything, I view Michael Andretti as nothing short of a kingmaker these past 15 plus years when it comes to drivers and the opportunities he’s provided.

    Therefore, if the man chooses to run a car for his son, whether merited or not, no one in my opinion has a right to criticize Michael. Using team resources for Marco to drive pales in comparison to what Michael Andretti, car owner, has provided to drivers in this sport.

    Just my humble two cents.

  9. Oliver Wells Says:

    Sure carry on but it’s doing nobody any favours. It lowers the calibre of the series which supposedly has the best drivers in the world….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: