NASCAR

Andretti Autosport struggles at Indy

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP)

Marissa Andretti moved nervously about the pit area with her hands clasped together while her big brother, Marco, desperately sought enough speed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.

Her prayers were for naught. Andretti failed to make the top 24 on his final try on Saturday, leaving him to fight for one of the final nine spots Sunday during Bump Day qualifying for the May 29 race.

Andretti's times got a little better in each of his three attempts on Pole Day, but it wasn't enough.

''We haven't made any improvements,'' he said. ''We were slow when we rolled off the truck, and we're still slow in qualifying.

He wasn't sure why he was slower than expected.

''It's beyond me,'' he said. ''I don't have an answer, and that's why I'm super frustrated right now.''

It was the same story for most of Andretti Autosport. John Andretti is the only member of the five-member team who qualified on Saturday. Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway all failed.

''We're all surprised by our speed,'' Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti said. ''We were expecting better, for sure.''

Marco Andretti is in an unusual position for racing royalty. This is the same driver who led late in the 2006 Indy 500 before being passed in the final straightaway and losing to Sam Hornish by .0635 seconds. Now, he's nervous about qualifying.

''This is going to be the longest weekend of my life, that's for sure,'' he said.

John Andretti was the only member of the team who caught a break. Shortly after his third qualifying attempt, the rain came down, shortening the session and locking in the top 24 finishers.

''I don't think God wants any particular person in the race at any point in time,'' he said. ''But I sure do appreciate Him holding off the rain until I got mine done.''

John Andretti's finish gave the team something positive to carry into Sunday.

''John (Andretti) did something different in his last qualifying run and he really picked up a lot, so we're hoping that is going to work on all the other cars tomorrow,'' Michael Andretti said. ''That's our hope.''

The frustration for Andretti Autosport had built to a boiling point, but John Andretti's team appeared relieved after his run.

Conway and Hunter-Reay weren't even close to qualifying in their only attempts. Conway's average was 222.247 miles per hour and Hunter-Reay's was 222.951. The required speed to reach the top 24 was 224.392.

''We're struggling,'' Hunter-Reay said. ''We tried every bit of the setup, from one side of the spectrum to the other, and it just didn't have any speed with it. I'm not really sure what the problem is, but we'll just keep chipping away with it.''

Hunter-Reay had qualified second in his previous two races.

''We've been real quick all season before we got here,'' he said. ''We just need to get in the race. We've struggled with the car all week, but we just need to get it in the race and go from there.''

Patrick was closer than Conway and Hunter-Reay to qualifying, but she didn't quite make it. On her first attempt, she barely got in, but her time was immediately bumped out of the field when Dario Franchitti posted a strong four laps.

Patrick's second qualifying attempt was slower than her first, and many of the fans in attendance cheered. A subdued Patrick got out of her car shaking her head. She appeared concerned as she watched television monitors with her team.

''All I can think of is something we missed or something happened with the track, maybe, and everyone is putting on a new set of rubber on and it changed.'' she said.

Patrick was surprised because she felt good with the car going into the weekend.

''It's the best I've felt here in a long time,'' she said. ''I felt really comfortable with the car, and it felt effortlessly fast, and it wasn't really slow until this morning.''

Now, she is focused on Sunday.

''We just have to buckle down at this point,'' she said. ''I guess we are going to have to risk it a little more come tomorrow.''

--

Cliff Brunt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/cliffbruntap.

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