NASCAR

Marco Andretti hoping offseason work leads to wins

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP)

(Eds: Corrects to Thursday in 4th paragraph. With AP Photos.)By JOHN ZENORAP Sports Writer

Marco Andretti thinks people have the wrong idea about his comfort level with the status quo.

The scion of one of the great racing families insists his desire to win isn't at all diminished by the apparent job security of working for his father, Michael Andretti, at Andretti Autosport.

In fact, Andretti spent the offseason examining what was holding him back in IndyCar and worked with a coach overseas.

''Just one win every couple of years is not enough for me, obviously,'' Andretti said Thursday. ''I'm very competitive. I just want people to know I'm not going home satisfied. I'm not going home happy. And I shouldn't. That's often a misperception of me is exactly that. I'm not happy until we are in victory circle on a regular basis. We've been knocking on the door. We've been leading the wrong laps, though.''

Andretti certainly knocked on the door with a third-place finish in the season opener at St. Petersburg, his first top-five finish on a street course since Toronto in 2011. Perhaps he can check off one key goal of the offseason work: Improving in street races.

Andretti enters Sunday's Indy Grand Prix of Alabama with renewed confidence after a performance that ''almost felt like a win.''

The 26-year-old son and grandson of former greats Michael and Mario Andretti, respectively, isn't trying to ride his famous racing name, but build on it. Why do people think he might be content to be just OK?

''Because I drive for my dad. Simple as that,'' Andretti said Monday while eating barbecue and deviled eggs at a downtown restaurant. ''Driving for dad, it can be the best possible scenario when we're winning but if we're not, the easiest thing to say is I'm there because of obvious reasons. My dad is probably my toughest critic in the world and people don't know that. He'd be the first one to tell you, he might overcompensate the other way within the team. I'd be the first one on the street if he didn't believe I'd perform.''

Andretti, who turned 26 last month, isn't about to be out on the street but he did have a frustrating 2012 season.

He finished 15th in the points standings and had only one top-five finish and three top 10s in 15 races. That followed four straight seasons in the top 10 with an average of four finishes in the top five and 8.5 in the top 10.

Still, his only IndyCar wins came at Infineon Raceway in 2006 and Iowa Speedway two years ago. Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay said being an Andretti in racing is a large burden to carry, particularly for a young driver.

''It's an immense amount of pressure he's lived with since he was go-karting,'' Hunter-Reay said. ''He's carrying the name of Andretti. He's got a lot of weight on his shoulders. I think he deals with the pressure very well. It's a pressure that not many people in racing have - Andretti, Rahal and Earnhardt. Even then there's an argument that Andretti is the biggest name in racing in the world.''

Andretti said he's not feeling pressure from his father, because ''he believes I can perform, and it all has to come together.''

After all, 39-year-old Dario Franchitti won four of five series championships starting in 2007. Franchitti drove in NASCAR's Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series in 2008.

''Dad just keeps saying, `Look at Dario,''' Andretti said. ''Dario was literally in his mid-30s or something when he started winning championships and he clicked off four in a row. I'd love to get as many wins as I can now but when stuff starts going right for me, I will be hard to beat every track we go to. The only way to do that is to stay in it. If you doubt yourself, don't even show up.''

Andretti's 2012 season might be summed up best by the Indianapolis 500, where his grandfather won in 1969 and his father never did. Andretti led a race-high 59 laps but got pushed back in the field by caution flag after a pit stop and then crashed on lap 188.

It was a frustrating weekend in a year with plenty of them.

''Everything that could go wrong did,'' Andretti said. ''As bad as we ended up in the points, it wasn't that bad on track. We were in contention in our Super Bowl, at Indy. I was one of the cars to beat, and we look to be the same this year. But then I ended up being a DNF. A lot of different point swings and stuff like that. Street courses, outside looking in. In this series, you're not fifth if you're a little off, you're 16th, and that's where we were.''

Andretti spent much of the offseason trying to figure out what was keeping him from the winner's circle.

He worked in London with driver coach Rob Wilson. One issue Andretti cites is that the new tires have less grip.

''Basically Firestone's been doing a great job at making the racing better for us, but they're doing that by making the tire have less grip and that works against a guy like me because I'm really aggressive,'' Andretti said. ''I was driving the car over the tire and once you're over the tire you kind of create work for yourself. Even the driver coach was like, `You're one of the best natural talents we've ever seen, but your problem is you tap into it too much.' It makes sense, because I wasn't pushing.

''I got to the point where I was just saving myself and wondering why I was getting beat and coming in soaking wet in sweat. We always knew we were overdriving, but we really diagnosed how and I think we've got a decent handle on that.''

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