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Andretti Goes for Big Finish : Indy cars: Mario ends career at Laguna Seca, where Penske trio is expected to dominate again.


MONTEREY — The 1994 PPG Indy Car season concludes this weekend with the Toyota Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca Raceway, but there is little reason to expect anything more than the usual parade of red and white Penskes out in front Sunday.

Five times the Team Penske trio of Al Unser Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy has finished 1-2-3 this season. They have qualified 1-2-3 on three occasions and in the standings, Unser and Fittipaldi have clinched first and second and Tracy is solidly in third.

Team Penske has won 11 of 15 races and its drivers have led 1,500 laps of the 1,999 run this season.

And Tracy won last year's race here, leading 81 of the 84 laps around the picturesque 2.214-mile hillside circuit with its 11 turns. The three other laps were led by Fittipaldi, the pole sitter.

So the most exciting moment--certainly the most emotional--might occur after the race is over, when Mario Andretti takes a final tour of Laguna Seca in a pace car painted "Mario Andretti red" for a final salute to his fans after 31 years of racing. He is retiring from Indy cars after Sunday's Bank of America 300.

"For sure, it will be emotional," Andretti said. "I just hope we can have a good day. It would be great to make the podium (for a top three finish), but I would love to be running at the finish. I want to be on the track for the checkered flag."

Andretti has a record three poles in 11 Indy car races at Laguna Seca, but surprisingly, among his 52 victories none has been here. He has been second three times, once to his son Michael in 1992.

"That race in 1992 was most special, my most memorable day at Laguna Seca," Mario said. "Mike and I finished 1-2 in the race that was thought to be the last time we would be on the track together as competitors, and certainly as teammates.

"Mike was leaving for Formula One, and while things turned out differently over there, we didn't know that at the time. I tell you, to share the podium with him that day, it was more than I could have hoped for."

Michael Andretti returned to Indy cars this season and raced against his father, but not as his teammate.

On the track, the younger Andretti's bid to break up the Penske combine is about the only drama left. He has two victories--at Australia and Toronto--this season and is 12 points behind Tracy for third place and 14 ahead of Robby Gordon.

"It will be tough to beat the Penskes, obviously, but we'll be giving it all we've got," Michael Andretti said. "If nothing else, at least we've got a shot at finishing ahead of everyone else in points."

Gordon, the off-roader from Orange, is still looking for his first Indy car triumph, although he has been on the pole twice this season, has led races and finished a strong second in Vancouver.

"One of our goals was to win a race this season, and now we're down to our last chance," Gordon said. "If nothing else works, we're going into Penske's trash cans and find a good setup."

Qualifying will begin today and continue Saturday. The main event is Sunday at 1 p.m.

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