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Thursday, March 11, 2010

IndyCar Season Preview: Andretti Autosport

Last year, Andretti Green Racing suffered through its worst season since joining the IZOD IndyCar Series, at least as far as the victory column goes. No Andretti driver won a race for the first time in the team's IndyCar history.

It wasn't all doom and gloom in the Andretti pit, however, as Danica Patrick had her best career season to date, finishing 5th in points (best of the non-Ganassi or Penske drivers) with only one DNF at the start of the season. Patrick thus enters this year with the longest running at the finish streak of anybody on the circuit.

Marco Andretti also had a solid year, finishing eighth in points while only failing to finish two races, exhibiting a consistency he had not shown since his 2006 rookie year. The son of team owner Michael Andretti scored two top fives and 11 top-10s, scoring 380 points, a career best.

All told, the four Andretti cars scored five podium finishes (all third places), 16 top fives, and 39 top-10s over the course of the season.

But that wasn't good enough for Andretti Green, which also promoted the races in St. Petersburg and Toronto. Offseason shuffling saw Andretti take over the race team, while former partners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree split from the team to take over the race promotion side of the business. Both sides hope that the result will be greater success in 2010.

Unfortunately, the Andretti cars weren't too fast in the season-opening test sessions. No Andretti car fared better than eighth, which Andretti did in the first and third sessions and Tony Kanaan accomplished in the second. Patrick lagged toward the rear of the field in all three, perhaps still adjusting from her recent stock-car tribulations. New teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay improved in every session, but only had a 14th-place car in the third session to show for his efforts.

While this suggests that a lot of other teams may be faster than the Andretti cars, it is important to note that Andretti cars are normally stronger on the ovals. The last time an Andretti car won a road course race was when Kanaan took the checkers at Detroit in late 2007. Before that, Marco scored his only career victory thus far at Sonoma in late 2006.

Andretti looks to maintain its status as "best of the rest" in 2010, but if the team doesn't step up and start winning some races this year, we may see Patrick bolt to stock cars for good. They have the potential to run well, but have been underachieving greatly the past couple of years, a far cry from their heyday in the mid-2000s.

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