NASCAR

Marco Andretti puts family atop IndyCar standings

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DETROIT (AP)

(Eds: Updates with details, comments. With AP Photos.)By LARRY LAGEAP Sports Writer

Marco Andretti has bounced back from the worst year of his IndyCar career, putting his famous family atop the open-wheel racing standings for the first time in more than a decade.

He will start 19th in the 25-car field Saturday in the first of two Detroit Grand Prix races this weekend.

Andretti, desperately hoping to end his family's drought at the Indy 500 that dates to 1969, is coming off a fourth-place finish at the Brickyard.

That was good enough to put the 26-year-old son and grandson of famed drivers just ahead of Takuma Sato and Helio Castroneves with 168 points in the standings.

''It's definitely a good feeling even though it's way early,'' he said Friday. ''But I think the season so far has gone pretty close to target. Obviously I wanted Indianapolis pretty bad, but I think as far as the street courses go we're knocking on the door. I'm a bit better.''

It's the first time the family has had a points leader since Michael Andretti, his father, led all CART drivers following a race in Vancouver back in September 2000. The grandson of Mario Andretti is off to the best start in his seven-plus season with IndyCar after finishing a career-low 16th last year.

''It was a very frustrating season even though we were one of the cars to beat at Indy last year,'' Andretti said. ''As far as the championship driver, I wasn't up to the task last year. There's no denying that it was the street courses that were costing me. I don't think it was soul searching or doubting my ability. I was just trying to figure out where I was getting beat and how I was getting beat.''

Andretti, who is from Nazareth, Pa., is the only driver with top 10 finishes in each of IndyCar's five races this season. He has a trio of top-five performances, finishing third at St. Petersburg and Brazil.

''I'm not where I want to be yet, but I'm in contention now,'' Andretti said. ''I really want to be challenging for poles and wins before I'm sleeping pretty solid at night. Right now I'm still on the outside looking in to the top six by a couple hundredths of a second. That part's frustrating, but I don't think that's going to be too hard to find. We've been working really hard and hopefully we can start challenging for poles. That's going to be able to tell me that I can really win this championship.''

The most frustrating part of this season, Andretti acknowledged, was missing an opportunity to become the first member of his family to win the Indy 500 since his grandfather did more than four decades ago. He led 31 total laps, but was unable to make a move on the final restart before another caution ended the race with Tony Kanaan ahead of the pack.

''What I'm thinking about now is what could have been if it went green because I was right inside of Ryan (Hunter-Reay) there on the last restart,'' he said. ''I was like, `Oh, I have time.' And I didn't.''

Andretti said the key to succeeding in IndyCar's first double-header weekend with full races might be playing it safe.

''They both pay points,'' he said. ''If you have a bad one on Saturday, you just want to survive and finish where the car could finish on Sunday. If we're able to come out of Detroit with the points lead, then I'm looking really good.''

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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/larrylage

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