Marco Andretti ended in the top 10 for another year, but ninth was a frustrating pill to swallow after P5 and a near title challenge the previous year. We look back at Marco’s season next as part of MotorSportsTalk’s Verizon IndyCar Series 2014 driver-by-driver review.
2014: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 5th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 23 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 12.2 Avg. Finish
Ninth in the 2014 standings for Marco Andretti owed more to the inconsistency of others than it did his own performance being the ninth best in the series. Andretti, over the last two years, has become increasingly introspective and critical of his own work – he has a sincere focus and desire to continue to be better. All too often throughout 2014, Andretti struggled to match his personal gains he made a year ago, when he leapt from 16th (2012) to fifth in the championship.
Not that the downsides of his 2014 were his entire fault. Far from it, actually. Andretti got taken out through no fault of his own at St. Petersburg and Mid-Ohio, and his early race engine failure at Texas was a crushing blow when he had driven ridiculously well to gain spots in the early laps. Problem was, outside of his outstanding drive to second in mixed conditions at Barber and a near-miss third in the Indianapolis 500, Andretti never figured into win, podium or even top-five contention.
As ever, the blame lay with his qualifying. Andretti had the lowest qualifying average of the four full-time Andretti Autosport drivers, at 12.4. Fifth at Pocono marked his only top-five start. In 2013, he’d averaged 8.9, with seven top-five starts. In a field as competitive as this one, Andretti’s qualifying was his weakest point, and ultimately doomed his season. The consistent and mistake-free races meant little to nothing because far too often, Andretti left himself too much work on race day.
Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.
Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.
On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.
One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.
After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.
The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.
Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.
“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.
“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”
But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.
“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.
“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”
Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.
“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.
“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”
The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.