Kanaan Outruns His Past And The Field At Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 26 2013

Tony Kanaan cried over spilled milk Sunday at Indianapolis. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Kanaan was so excited he forgot to slow down.

After years of frustration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Kanaan passed Ryan Hunter-Reay on a restart three laps from the finish of the 97th Indy 500. Moments later, three-time Indy winner Dario Franchitti slid into the wall, bringing out a caution flag and assuring Kanaan the hard-fought win.

As everyone else eased off the gas for the slow ride to the checkered flags, Kanaan kept his foot in the throttle, speeding onto the main straightaway, as if to outrun the past.

The former IndyCar Series champion had done everything but win on the famed 2 ½-mile Brickyard oval in the previous 11 years.

He led the race in nine of those starts and had five top-five finishes, including second in 2004. But he also crashed out twice and had numerous mechanical problems and pit mistakes to keep him from wearing the laurel wreath at Indy – until Sunday.

It was a very popular victory with the crowd of more than 200,000 people standing and cheering as the black and gold No. 11 Hydroxycut Dallara/Chevrolet zoomed onto the front straight all alone before slowing.

Kanaan repeatedly punched the air with his fist from the open-cockpit of his KV Racing entry on the cool-down lap as car after car of his competitors drove alongside and gave him thumbs-up.

It was just as popular with the other drivers and team members.

As he made his way on foot to the yard of bricks for some picture-taking, Kanaan could hardly walk a step before stopping to hug another driver, a crewman, a friend _ even the safety team members. And, as he walked, the crowd continued to chant “TK, TK.’’

“I got a little bit of luck today,’’ said the happy-go-lucky Brazilian after celebrating with the traditional drink of milk in Victory Circle. “It’s for the fans and my dad, who’s not here.’’

“It was one of those days, everything was so smooth,’’ Kanaan said. “With six laps to go, I thought, `This might be the day’ because I was in Ryan’s position many times before. I thought there might be a yellow, which has happened to me so many times before. Today, the yellow was my best friend.’’

Team co-owner Jimmy Vasser said, “He’s just awesome in those (restart) situations. He was just great all day.’’

Pole-winner Ed Carpenter, who finished 10th, led the most laps with 37, but the 38-year-old Kanaan was next with 34.

The new cars that IndyCar debuted last year have come of age this year, with tremendously competitive performances in every race. Sunday’s 200-lap event was the best yet, with 13 of 33 drivers completing 68 lead changes, easily breaking the record 34 set in 2012.

Rookie Carlos Munoz from Venezuela started a surprising second and was in the mix all day. He found himself in third on the final restart and followed Kanaan past Hunter-Reay for second place.

“I should be happy. But I thought I should win this thing,’’ Munoz said. “The car was so great from the first lap to the last lap. … Maybe next year I will win it.’’

Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia was the last rookie to win this race, in 2000.

“All respect to Juan Pablo, I know how it is to do 500 now,’’ Munoz said. “This race is so difficult.”

Hunter-Reay, the reigning series champion, said his third-place finish was just bad luck.

“I knew I was a sitting duck (on the last restart)and I wasn’t too bummed about it because I knew we had enough laps to get it going again and have a pass back,’’ he said. “And maybe I would be third on the last lap, which is where I wanted to be. It didn’t work out that way.

“Had we been at the right place at the right time, I’m confident we would have won it, and that’s just the way this place goes.’’

Marco Andretti, who came into the race as the favorite, appeared to have his best chance to become the first member of his family to win here since grandfather Mario won in 1969. He led numerous times for a total of 31 laps, but was blocked by Andretti Autosports teammate Hunter-Reay as he tried to take the lead on lap 192.

Andretti had to slow momentarily, fell to fourth and was unable to mount a charge on the last restart, finishing in the same spot.

“When we stopped for the trim adjustments (on the last pit stop on lap 180), we were in the worst-case scenario,’’ Andretti explained. “We got stuck behind some teammates.

“It was fun for a while, but we just got shuffled back. I knew it was going to come down to that at the end. But I’m happy for Tony. He’s a great champion.’’

Helio Castroneves and Franchitti both came into the race looking for their fourth Indy win, but Castroneves wound up sixth and Franchitti never was in contention, finishing 23rd after his crash.

Kanaan averaged 187.433 mph, breaking the Indy record of 185.981 set in 1990 by Arie Luyendyk. It’s the second fastest 500-mile race ever, trailing only the 187.727 by Al Unser Jr. in 1990 at Michigan International Speedway.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 26 2013
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