EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Exclusive: 6 full throttle questions for racing legend, Mario Andretti

Photo via: Wiki Commons.

Today I was lucky enough to talk to Mario Andretti, a living legend in auto racing. He has won over 100 races including an Indy 500 in 1969 and a Daytona 500 in 1967. Mario could not have been more kind as we talked about where IndyCar is today and what some plans are moving forward including the recent addition of Jimmie Johnson as it was announced Wednesday that he would drive for Chip Ganassi racing in the IndyCar.

SportsMap: I am joined here today by in my opinion the greatest race car driver who has ever lived, Mr. Mario Andretti. Mario, thank you so much for joining me here today.

Mario Andretti: My pleasure, Trey. Thank you for having me.

SM: So right off the bat as we all know, IndyCar is under new management. How would you rate the job that Roger Penske has done so far in his first season?

MA: Triple A! We're so fortunate that he has [taken] on the reigns of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis during these difficult times, and we have all the confidence in the world that we will get right through this, and we look forward to a better and more prosperous 2021. But to answer your question, we're all thrilled that he's at the helm of the series and Indy. He has made so many improvements to the speedway, and he did all this knowing that the race wouldn't be [run] with fans, so he has done terrific.

SM: You mentioned earlier that he has made many improvements to the speedway, what sort of improvements have you seen that make it more accessible for the fans when they are able to return next year?

MA: Just the accessibility to the fans has been incredible. They have paved a lot of the parking lots, lots of accessibility to the tower, the restrooms are much cleaner and it's only the beginning. He is planning to add at least 20 big screens to the track so the fans can see every inch of the track.

SM: How do you like the racing we are seeing with today's cars? I know they are a lot more spec than they were when you raced. Do you like the product we are seeing on the track?

MA: I think a lot of the racing we see on the ovals and the road courses have put a lot on the drivers themselves because everything is so close together, we see a lot of races that are won and loss in the pits more than ever. So it's kind of become more a team sport as well.

SM: What is your opinion on the new windscreen that IndyCar has unveiled this season to try and protect these drivers?

MA: Well I think there are a lot of benefits to it, but there are also a lot of possible drawbacks as well. They have a lot of work to do, and they haven't had a lot of time with this abbreviated season. And they are working on the ventilation with the heat and everything but when it comes to safety, I am all for it.

SM: It was announced today that Jimmie Johnson would be joining the IndyCar Series next season. How do you think his success will translate over to IndyCar?

MA: First of all, this is wonderful news by the way, and you can see that Jimmie has a lot to give to the sport. He has an enviable record in NASCAR, and then he's young enough that he wants to expand and that's beautiful for the sport. It's a win-win for everyone, motorsports wins and now that he will be going with a team like Chip Ganassi Racing, I think he can be a force to be reckoned with. I think he caught the bug when he did a test in an F1 car in Bahrain with Fernado Alonso so it will be fun to watch for sure.

If you would like to hear the entire interview, you can listen below.

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Life after Correa may not be the worst thing. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Carlos Correa is having a damn good year. The Astros shortstop is hitting .285 with 24 homers, 87 RBI, 72 walks, .862 OPS, a 7.2 WAR, and a .981 fielding percentage. In any other year, those would be numbers worthy of being in the mix for AL MVP (if it weren't for that dastardly Shohei Otani). Correa is also in a contract year. He and the Astros were far enough apart that the season started and he's held true to not wanting to negotiate midseason.

The offers of six years for $120 million and five years for $125 million were both rejected by he and his camp. They're seeking something much longer and for more money on the annual average. With the team unwilling to meet those demands, it seems as if the team and the player are headed for a split.

Lots of Astros fans are not happy with the prospect of Correa leaving via free agency. Some think the team isn't doing enough and should pony up to bring him back. Some feel Correa should take what they're offering because it's a fair deal that'll allow the team to sign other players. Then, there's that small band of us that are totally okay with him leaving.

One of the main reasons I'm okay with him leaving is the players the team still has under control that are potential replacements. Aledmys Diaz and Pedro Leon are the first two guys that come to mind. Diaz is a 31-year-old vet who's stepped up when he's called upon. He can slide over to third and allow Alex Bregman to play shortstop. Leon is the team's 23-year-old hot prospect who signed as an outfielder that the team has been trying to turn into a shortstop. If Correa were to leave, he could instantly plug the hole Carlos would leave behind. Either of those options lead to my next point of being okay with Correa leaving which is to...

...allocate that money elsewhere. Whether it's signing a replacement (at short or third), or boosting the pitching staff, I'll be fine as long as it's money well spent. Signing a shortstop or third baseman would determine where Bregman would be playing. If said player takes significantly less than Correa and fills 70-80% of his offensive shoes, it'll be worth it. Others will have to step it up. If they find a deal on a top of the rotation starting pitcher, that would be ideal as well. As I stated a couple of weeks ago, this team has employed a six-man rotation, but doesn't have a true ace. Spending anywhere from $20-30 million a year on a top-notch pitcher to add to the staff would bolster this staff in more ways than one. It'll finally give them the ace they lack, plus it'll bump all the young talent (still under team control) down a peg creating depth and perhaps even creating bullpen depth.

The only way any of this works is if Correa isn't back. Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander's money comes off the books also. Freeing up that much payroll and not re-appropriating those resources to ensure this team stays in contention would be a first degree felony in sports court. I don't think Jim Crane wants that for this team. I for sure don't think James Click wants that as his legacy. Let's sit back and watch how the organization maneuvers this offseason and pray they get it right.


Editor's note: If you want to read the other side of the argument, check out Ken Hoffman's piece from Tuesday.

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