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John Andretti fights cancer and his message is on full display

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) John Andretti can’t shake the sound from his head. The haunting sound of a machine pumping toxic chemicals into his system as part of chemotherapy.

“I wake up in the middle of the night and I sit and listen to this pump going and know this pump is poison,” Andretti said. “I hear that pump right now. I hate that thing.”

The 54-year-old Andretti is in the fight of his life and has been for several months. He is battling cancer that started in his colon, spread to his liver and doctors believe to his spleen, too.

The former racer is back for his family’s annual May reunion in the venue that has always felt like home – Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a place that provides Andretti with the boost he needs right now.

“This place is life to an Andretti,” he said. “I get chills because this is the most special place on the planet for me, for my family. This gives me energy.”

Andretti started 49 consecutive IndyCar races from 1990-92 before moving to NASCAR, where he made 29 or more starts every year from 1994-2003. He was the first driver to attempt the Memorial Day double, racing first in the Indianapolis 500 and then NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600.

Andretti spoke Thursday during an announcement for his #CheckIt4Andretti campaign encouraging those 50 or older to get a colonoscopy. Andretti hopes the message is heard by everyone, not just racing fans.

A decal will be placed on every car in 101st running of the 500, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Freedom 100 races. The decal will also be displayed at other races in Indiana and Kentucky this month with the (hash)CheckIt4Andretti message “Schedule Your Colonoscopy Today.”

“John is in a different race,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles said. “And not unlike his spirit and his fight, he has figured out a way to be a superhero in this new fight and this new race that he’s on.”

It’s an important message that can save a life or at the very least, relieve some pain and financial burden. Had he gone through a colonoscopy at 50, Andretti said, he believes the cancer never would have progressed to this point. Throughout his career, Andretti received regular medical screenings – just not the one he’s now pushing for.

“I was always focused on my health,” Andretti said. “It wasn’t a matter that I wasn’t paying attention. … The only thing I was missing was a colonoscopy.”

Andretti has nearly forced those closest to him to get one, including his cousin, Michael, who recently had his. Prior to Thursday’s announcement, Andretti placed the first decal on one of his cousin’s cars.

“It is perfectly aligned and straight,” Andretti said. “I was going to actually put it on crooked so it would drive my cousin nuts for the whole month.”

Most of Andretti’s chemotherapy treatments have been in North Carolina, where he lives, and his sixth treatment will be in Indianapolis next week. In June, he will have surgery on his liver and spleen.

“People get embarrassed by talking about colonoscopies and they shouldn’t be because it’s just something that’s natural,” Andretti said. “So it’s something that’s really close to me now and obviously important, and for everybody to do. It’s way easier than doing (chemo), I can guarantee you that, because I did both.”

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.