John Andretti was a well-known American racing car driver. He finished third in the Indianapolis 500 three times, won nine consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series races, was the first American to win the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans, was a champion at both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Auto Club International, the only driver to compete in all of those series with success.
His uncle, Mario Andretti, son Jimmy Garcia, won a half-point at Daytona International Speedway, beating Mario on points in the process. Andretti's first race was also an interesting one. The race was on the same day that two planes crashed into the Empire State Building, killing six people and injuring many more.
On the final lap of the Indianapolis 500, Andretti ran out of fuel, lost control in the wet, spun out of control, and ended up spinning around in the grass on the front stretch of the track. At the time, this caused a safety car to come out onto the track, which forced Andretti to pit. This meant that he was now a half-mile back from the finish, so he turned in a bad fit. Afterward, he told reporters that he had a flat tire.
Andretti was forced to miss the rest of the race because of a flat tire, but managed to finish fourth, just a half-lap behind winner Jimmy Castro. He became the only American to win the event, a first for any driver, let alone the youngest. It also marked Andretti's first victory over the great Mario Andretti in a NASCAR race.
Two years later, when Mario got injured, Andretti stepped in to take his place. He led the race for about four laps, but Castro overtook him for the lead on the last lap and won the race. Castro was actually second to Jimmie Johnson, who was also injured and forced out of the race because of his broken leg. Andretti won the next race, but he was out in third when Jimmie Johnson won the following race.
Two races after that, Andrelli won the Indianapolis 500 for the second year in a row. Though he never claimed another victory, he still holds the most wins of any American driver in the history of the series, even though he never reached the top spot in the driver standings. Though Andretti's driver's title is the only thing that he has ever won in the series, he did make a great contribution to the sport by winning a Daytona 500 for a second time.
It was actually Andrettis victory at Daytona that made his rivalry with Mario more than just a personal one. He felt that they were both “racers” and that he deserved to be in the driver's seat because of his accomplishments in the Indianapolis 500, and he challenged Mario to come back and win the next two races, or face Andretti as his main rival.
Of course, Mario won the following two races, but in what seems like an impossibility at this point, he was never able to catch Andretti again. His first season with the Andrettis was his last with the team, as Mario and Andrelli parted ways. Andretti continued on with Dale Earnhardt Jr., where he helped win five more titles, while earning more money, while becoming a much bigger star.
However, Andretti's run with the Andrettis ended after a very short time with their son's team. He decided to leave the company for another opportunity. Andretti started racing full-time for Ferrari, but after four seasons with the Italian team, he left the sports car industry and went to NASCAR. He would become one of the best NASCAR drivers of all time, winning seven races, including his first Cup championship.
Andretti, however, continued to race for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and helped win the championship in 1992, and he has remained a close friend to the Hendrickman family. Andretti even won his own championship with the team two years later, though it was his first chance to win a championship. After his NASCAR career, he continued on with Ferrari and won his own third championship with the car.
Andretti is a true sports car legend, and he deserves every award that has been given him, but he probably wouldn't have won so many races without the help of Mario. Without Mario, Andretti may not have won the races he did if he didn't become so attached to the series.
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