INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Michael Andretti was feeling lucky – and thirsty.

After decades of being shut out by mechanical problems, crashes and just plain bad luck at the Indy 500, an Andretti finally returned to Victory Lane on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Two weeks after Tony Kanaan gave Andretti his first pole on the historic 2-mile oval, Dan Wheldon delivered the most elusive prize by passing Danica Patrick on Lap 194 and taking advantage of two late yellow flags to hang on for the win.

Afterward, a jubilant Andretti stole a swig of milk from Wheldon, then savored his first-ever victory lap at Indy by pumping his fist and waving to the crowd.

“There’s no more talk of that stupid curse,” Andretti said. “That’s dead. It would be nice to come back here next year and not have to talk about it.”

But even victory didn’t come without a little consternation for the hard-luck Andrettis.

Just before a restart on lap 190, Andretti told a national television audience that he would have preferred Wheldon was running second. A few moments later, after Patrick passed him for the lead, he was.

Three laps later, Wheldon countered with an inside move to pass Patrick – then Andretti had to sweat about not only Patrick’s last push but also whether her teammate, Vitor Meira, could add to the Andretti legacy.

“I knew we’d get past her, and I also knew Dan had a strong car,” he said. “But you say you know that. Till it actually happens, you don’t know that.”

Especially when you’re an Andretti at Indianapolis, where the family fortunes were defined mostly by heartbreak.

The most dreaded phrase during the 1970s and 1980s became “Mario is slowing down,” a reference to Michael’s father and the 1969 Indy champion.

Michael had similar problems. He started 14 races and led more laps than all but 10 drivers, all of whom won Indy titles. His last race in 2003 ended in typical fashion – riding on a golf cart to his garage after an obscure engine part broke.

The curse continued even after Andretti and two partners bought Barry Green’s race team.

In 2003, Roger Penske’s drivers, Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves, went 1-2 while Andretti-Green’s Tony Kanaan was third. Last year came more agony when three Andretti drivers finished 2-3-4 behind Rahal Letterman Racing driver Buddy Rice.

This time, though, nothing – not even fate – could stop the IRL’s most dominant team.

“You look at the people that have won it, and they’re just great,” Wheldon said. “Then you look at the people who have not won it, like this guy (Andretti), who is supremely talented and probably as talented as anyone out there. I’m proud of that.”

Wheldon drove to his fourth win in five races this season, and afterward Andretti and Wheldon sat side-by-side in a convertible for lap 201 – Michael Andretti’s first-ever victory lap around this torturous oval.

“This is fantastic,” Mario Andretti said. “Dan really deserved this one, he drove so hard. And Michael, too.”

He finished among the top 10 eight times, including second in 1991 when Rick Mears won his fourth race by more than 3 seconds. But after the IRL-CART split in 1995, Andretti didn’t come back to Indy until 2001, then finished third and seventh before closing his career with another mechanical failure.

But before celebrating with Wheldon, there was one more delay – Wheldon ran out of gas on his victory lap and had to be pushed into Victory Lane.

It was a fitting end for the man who never lost hope.

“You know, this place has always been tough on me personally,” he said. “I just always had a feeling that one day it was going to – I would have some good memories here and it’s finally happened.”


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