Marco Andretti’s improvement evident through three races, and he admits it

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Marco Andretti heads into Brazil this weekend, the last IZOD IndyCar Series race before the Indianapolis 500, just 12 points behind the championship leader and brimming full of confidence.

“This is what used to be the weakest part of the schedule for me, and I find myself just a few points out of the points lead,” he said Wednesday in a conference call. “I’m super thrilled about my progress in the off-season. Working on these weak points I think definitely has helped, but it’s definitely good to see results translate through.”

Andretti’s one of only three drivers with three top-10 finishes through the first three races. Qualifying has also improved, with seventh on the grid in the first two races and a better effort going at Long Beach before a blocking penalty relegated him to 25th on the grid.

“I’ve worked on my street courses in the off-season in a big way,” he explained. “Really I need to give my teammates credit, especially Ryan. He adapted to the street courses a lot better than I did. I was really over-driving the car.

“In the off-season I really studied how I was over-driving the car. It ended up working against me, causing more problems for myself, leaving me on the outside looking in.

“This year, qualifying, there’s a couple hundredths of a second out of the top six, but it’s a lot better than looking in on the top 12, which is where we were last year. I think we’ve improved. But to get wins we just need to keep driving the way we are.”

Andretti’s ability has shown through more this year given the self-reflection and analysis he’s done.

“Well, yeah, I always knew I was a decent driver, I just needed to put it all together basically. I’m yet to do that,” he admitted. “Until I start clicking off poles and wins on street courses, then I’ll sleep a lot better than I am at night.

“However, I am sleeping better than I was last year. I think just that alone, you know, those notches on the belt help. You know what I mean? You can’t explain it. It all just starts coming together.”

Recapping the 2018 Dakar Rally with “best of” video highlights

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EDITOR’S NOTE: NBCSN will air additional Dakar Rally highlights on Monday at 7 p.m. ET.

As it has done so for four decades, the 40th annual Dakar Rally – the most grueling test of man and machine anywhere – produced a number of surprise finishes and also several disappointments for drivers or riders who were expected to do well in the nearly 5,600-mile trek that began in Peru and continued through Bolivia and ending in Argentina.

NBCSN has aired highlights from all 14 stages (actually 13, because one stage was completely rained out) during the Rally’s two-week run, which concluded Saturday.

Here’s some of the “best of” highlights from the overall Rally highlights, followed by a quick guide that gives you wrapups to all 14 stages.

So, without further adieu, here’s NBCSN’s “best of” the 2018 Dakar Rally:

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of cars

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of bikes

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of trucks

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of quads

Lastly, here’s a day-by-day wrapup of how the Rally played out.

MORE: Dakar Rally daily stages schedule, NBCSN broadcast schedule, list of all competitors.

MORE: Stage 14 overall Rally wrapup

MORE: Stage 13 wrapup

MORE: Stage 12 wrapup

MORE: Stage 11 wrapup

MORE: Stage 10 wrapup

MORE: Stage 9 cancelled due to weather, impassible course conditions

MORE: Stage 8 wrapup

MORE: Stage 7 wrapup

MORE: Stage 6 wrapup

MORE: Stage 5 wrapup

MORE: Stage 4 wrapup

MORE: Stage 3 wrapup

MORE: Stage 2 wrapup

MORE: Stage 1 wrapup