By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Motorsports Tribune reviews the season of the top 12 drivers from the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Our list continues with the ninth-place finisher, Marco Andretti.
Marco Andretti, No. 98 U.S. Concrete Honda
- 2018: 9th in the championship
- Wins: 0, Top 5: 2, Top 10: 8, Poles: 1, Laps Led: 22
- Best Finish: 4th (Detroit – Race 1)
Marco Andretti quietly put together a solid season, which saw him return to the top 10 in the championship standings for the first time since 2015.
The third-generation pilot opened up the year with three top 10 results through the first four races. The one unfortunate mishap came at the final stop of those four races at Barber Motorsports Park.
With torrential rain on race day, strategies were scattered, but race strategist Bryan Herta put together the call that had his driver on the ideal strategy, which would have seen Andretti the outright leader whenever the cycle of pit stops began. The rough weather suspended the action until the following day after just 23 laps, and unfortunately for Andretti, INDYCAR allowed every car in the running order to refill on fuel and maintain their track position. That decision shifted the No. 98 from the best situation to the worst. When the action resumed, they somehow still managed to claw back to score a 10th-place finish.
The month of May was one to forget as it began with a mediocre 13th-place finish at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 was a surprisingly average showing. With a history of strong performances at the 2.5-mile oval, including four podium finishes, there was hope for Andretti despite qualifying 12th. However, the combination of a difficult superspeedway package from the new universal aero kit, which toughened the passing overall, along subpar track position left him finishing exactly where he started.
Fortunes turned immediately at the next round at Belle Isle as Andretti captured the pole for the first race of the doubleheader weekend and paced the field early on. However, a pit miscue left him finishing fourth. He followed up the effort with a ninth-place run in the second race.
The next five events proved to be trying for the No. 98 group as it delivered just one top 10 finish (10th – Toronto).
Andretti put on a spectacle of strong outside passing moves at his home race at Pocono Raceway, running as high as third and showing strong pace before fading to a less-than spectacular 7th.
The final three races of the season were a mixed bag of outcomes.
Gateway brought a 14th-place finish. The highly-anticipated IndyCar return to Portland added increased expectations after strong performances through all the practice sessions and a decent ninth-place qualifying effort. Everything came to an abrupt end just three corners into the opening lap as competitors collided ahead. Andretti got the worst of the carnage as he was not only involved in the six-car accident, but ended up sliding over top of two cars before flipping over and landing wheels up in a cloud of dust and with a 25th-place finish.
Andretti rebounded strong in the finale at Sonoma Raceway, qualifying fourth and putting in a respectable fifth and end the year with a total of eight top 10 finishes.
The only two boxes not checked for Andretti in a decent 2018 were podiums and wins. After completing their second consecutive year as driver/strategist, the combination of Andretti/Herta are proving to become increasingly formidable.
The pairing will continue on next season as they look to build on what they’ve learned from the universal aero kit and evolve as a team. The confidence is really beginning to show on Andretti, which certainly brings a lot of optimism to possibly add to his two career Indy car wins in 2019.