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Andretti Autosport humming along in post-Danica Patrick era

Danica Patrick is far from the Indianapolis 500 this weekend — the former IndyCar driver is competing in both NASCAR races at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Her old Andretti Autosport team is thriving this month at Indianapolis.

Associated Press

Danica Patrick is far from the Indianapolis 500 this weekend — the former IndyCar driver is competing in both NASCAR races at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Her old Andretti Autosport team is thriving this month at Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — Andretti Autosport isn't lamenting Danica Patrick's move to NASCAR.

Michael Andretti's drivers say they are working like teammates again. Though nobody on the team has publicly cited Patrick's departure as the sole reason, the team clearly has a new zest for racing, and it doesn't seem a coincidence that the results have changed, either.

"I don't know about friction, but there wasn't a lot of trust and things like that and when it isn't happening, it's all forced and you can't force those things to happen," the team owner said after Friday's final practice for Sunday's Indianapolis 500.

Patrick joined the team in 2007 and apparently her feelings about the split are mutual. On Thursday in Charlotte, N.C., Patrick said when she watched last weekend's Indy qualifying, it rekindled her memories.

But she acknowledged she needed a fresh start.

"I didn't feel like I wanted to be there," she said. "I'm very pleased that I'm in NASCAR. I'm very happy, I'm having a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to a different challenge this weekend."

Patrick's departure was the biggest change since last season when Andretti's team had four drivers — his son Marco, soft-spoken Mike Conway, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Patrick.

Conway was left out when the team cut back to three full-time cars (he joined A.J. Foyt's team), and James Hinchcliffe replaced Patrick.

The three regular drivers qualified second, third and fourth for Sunday's race — a stark contrast to the past two years when Michael Andretti's team was still trying to get drivers in the race on Bump Day.

The difference comes down to teamwork.

"That's when you know that you're dealing with real people, when you're competing against your own people for the pole and not playing games behind people's backs," said Marco Andretti, the 25-year-old American with the strong racing lineage.

He declined to cite any specific drivers for the problems.

"There was just not a lot of honesty in the past. … Now am I going to throw someone under the bus? No," he said.

"I don't know about games, but I know we are one tight-knit group of drivers who all want to win races," Hunter-Reay said. "We get along off the track. We don't let egos get in the way."

He quickly pointed out his comment was not intended as a shot at Patrick.

"I had no direct issue with her, I just knew we worked closely with her," said Hunter-Reay, who starts third in Sunday's race. "We were just not going forward."

That's not the case now. Hinchcliffe missed earning the pole by 0.003 mph, the closest pole battle in 500 history. Marco Andretti has had one of the fastest cars at the speedway all month and starts fourth.

"You always struggle for that camaraderie. When you have it, you have it," Michael Andretti said.

FINAL PRACTICE: Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Dario Franchitti (222.360 mph) and Scott Dixon (222.274) had the two fastest laps of the day at Indy. Marco Andretti was third fastest at 221.702. Dixon's No. 9 team also win the Carb Day pit stop competition, a first for Ganassi.

INDY LIGHTS: Esteban Guerrieri won the crash-marred Freedom 100 at Indy. A multicar wreck early brought out a red flag because of damage to a barrier.

Andretti Autosport humming along in post-Danica Patrick era 05/25/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 25, 2012 9:48pm]
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