Losing to TK eases sting for Andretti

INDIANAPOLIS -- Michael Andretti knows all too well how it feels to come up short in the Indianapolis 500.

The Andretti Autosport team owner finished second to Rick Mears in the 1991 "500" and led 431 laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in his driving career, but never won the sport's biggest race.

Andretti has won Indianapolis twice as a team owner -- in 2005 with the late Dan Wheldon and two years later with Dario Franchitti. But Sunday, that old feeling of "close but no cigar" at IMS came back to Michael with a vengeance.

Three of Andretti Autosport's five entries finished in the top five in the Indianapolis 500, with rookie Carlos Munoz leading the effort in second place. Defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third, while a fourth-place finish bumped Marco Andretti into the series points lead.

AA likely will bank more than $2.5 million when the prize money checks are distributed Monday night at the 500 victory celebration, potentially more than race winner Tony Kanaan will claim for himself and KV Racing Technology.

But you get the feeling that Michael Andretti would trade that $2.5 million for another Indy win.

"It was disappointing because we didn't get a chance to fight it out and see where we really stood," Andretti remarked. "We had three real legitimate shots at getting it done there at the end, but the racing gods had another idea.

"As a team, we did everything we could. We can't second-guess anything we did; we did everything right and it just came down to the circumstances."

The silver lining came in the form of being beaten by Kanaan, the driver Andretti chose to anchor his team when he branched out into ownership in 2003.

Kanaan delivered Andretti the first of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2004 but always seemed to suffer poor fortune -- almost in an Andretti-like way -- at Indianapolis.

TK started on pole for Andretti at Indy in 2005, led every race at IMS from 2002 to 2008 and notched a pair of other top-five finishes in the 500, but he was never in front when it truly counted.

Kanaan parted ways with AA after the 2010 season as Andretti rebuilt the organization around Hunter-Reay, but Michael and Tony remain close friends.

"I'm very happy for him," said Andretti. "At least he doesn't have to retire not having won this thing, because he's one guy that deserves it. He's led here so many times and had so much heartbreak.

"Yeah, if it wasn't one of our cars, I'm definitely happy for him because he was such a big part of our family and he definitely deserved to win this race before he retires."

Hunter-Reay was disappointed to finish third after leading into the final restart with seven laps to go, but he echoed the feeling shared by much of the IndyCar paddock and the Indianapolis crowd estimated at 200,000.

"I have to say I'm very happy for Tony Kanaan," Hunter-Reay said. "He's done such a great job. He's a great champion and he's done a great job here his whole career.

"I'm sure he's had plenty of the days I've had," Hunter-Reay added. "It feels like you get so close and it doesn't work out. But I'm very happy for him because he's very deserving."

Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti looked in prime position to duke it out for the win in the waning laps, and they were joined in the fight by rookie Munoz, who was the surprise of May in his very first Indy car race.

But Franchitti, who now drives for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, wrecked in Turn 1 on the 198th lap, forcing the race to end under caution. That guaranteed the win for his pal Kanaan, who had just taken the lead from Hunter-Reay.

Ironically, Franchitti was also a key member of Andretti Autosport in the past, winning the 2007 Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series title for the Indianapolis-based team.

Michael Andretti admitted he was nervous near the end as he watched three of his drivers at the center of the drama.

"I was holding my breath there, especially on that last restart," he said. "They were three abreast and all three of those cars were mine! It's better to have more than one car up front, but it's nerve-wracking. You figure you have a better shot at winning it.

"I'm real proud of the whole team because everybody ran really well all month."

Marco Andretti was crestfallen after leading 31 laps on the way to fourth place.

"It was fun for a while, but we got shuffled back and stuck behind some teammates," he said. "I knew it was going to come down to that in the end."

Marco can take some solace from leading the IndyCar Series standings for the first time in his career.

"I'm really proud of the job Marco has done," said his father. "He really looked at himself at the end of last year, and he made huge improvements in himself. I think last year was a good year for him, because he learned a lot about a lot of things. He learned he needs to do a few things different and he is doing it and he's doing it well."

Relaxing at his hospitality area following a lengthy engineering debrief with his team, Michael tried to shrug off the disappointment of another close call at Indianapolis.

He took pride in how his team helped contribute to what many observers rated as one of the best Indianapolis 500s on record. With just three caution periods, it was the fastest Indianapolis 500 in history; the winning average speed of 187.433 mph broke Arie Luyendyk's 23-year-old mark.

"If you don't like this race, you don't like racing," Andretti noted. "How do you not? You had no idea who was going to win that race, and that's what the fans pay for. There was action throughout the race and it was great.

"I just wish one of our guys could have held on at the front for a couple more laps."