Marco Andretti due for big weekend at Barber

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I’ll take the blame if this turns into a jinx, but I’m expecting big things from Marco Andretti at Barber Motorsports Park this weekend.

Andretti’s consistently been the thorn in the Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing side at the three prior IndyCar races at Barber, even if his final results haven’t shown it.

He led a race-high 58 laps at Barber in 2010 and was unlucky to only finish fifth after qualifying fourth. He followed that with a ninth-to-fourth run in 2011, and was on pace for another top five finish a year ago before his tires faded in the final stint and he dropped to an unrepresentative 11th-place finish.

Andretti has altered his driving style for road and street courses this year to be less aggressive, and not over-driving the corners, but still able to save the tires early enough in a stint to save them toward the end.

It paid dividends at St. Petersburg as Andretti pounced in the final stages to secure a podium finish in third place once Simona de Silvestro’s tires fell off in the dying laps.

“It’s all confidence, confidence with your engineers, but also confidence, your guys need to have that in you,” Andretti said after the race. “Obviously I finished better than wherever the heck I was last year. Hopefully we can be part of this snowball effect that people speak of and we can just keep clicking off a lot of great results.

“Obviously I’ve made my improvements where I need to improve, but sometimes you don’t know why they come. You just got to keep working hard and hopefully it can snowball.”

Andretti did not make a single Firestone Fast Six in 2012, but if the pace is similar to what he has produced at Barber in the past, and as quick as the Andretti Autosport contingent was at St. Petersburg, I think he’ll break through this Saturday. A second straight podium or perhaps his first win on a road or street course since his first at Sonoma in 2006 would not totally surprise, either.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.