Kanaan sees shot at Indy 500 victory go slip sliding away


INDIANAPOLIS -- The chilly rain that fell on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday evening made the aftermath of the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500 even more unpleasant for Tony Kanaan and his Andretti Green Racing crew.

Kanaan was leading the famous race in his 7-Eleven sponsored entry the first time rain invaded The Brickyard earlier in the afternoon and he looked dominant when racing resumed after a three-hour delay. But the 32-year-old Brazilian got swept into a spin when Jaques Lazier crashed on a Lap 155 restart, just 11 laps before the inclement weather moved in for good and the checkered flag ultimately flew.

Though Kanaan kept his Dallara-Honda off the wall, a 12th-place finish wasn't what he was looking for after spending a month in Indianapolis. And leading a race-high 83 laps was little consolation.

Yet as usual, TK was candid and composed and refused to point a finger at Lazier, who was running his first IndyCar Series race start since last year's Indianapolis 500.

"I don't know what happened," Kanaan said. "I think we got caught and I don't even know who crashed. Somebody tipped me, but I really don't know. I spun, I saw the wall coming and I was actually more afraid I was going to hit the corner of the pit wall, but I managed to keep it on the track.

"After that I knew the day was over."

Kanaan's day certainly was done in terms of racing for the win, but he didn't run off to sulk when the race was flagged. Instead, he trudged purposefully through the downpour to greet winner Dario Franchitti in Victory Lane, while his soaked and heartbroken crew set about tearing down the pit equipment to get ready for next weekend's race at the Milwaukee Mile.

"People thought I was mad, but I wasn't -- I wanted to get to Dario before anyone else," Kanaan explained.

Once he got there, it looked like 2004-05 all over again as tears flowed and all the AGR drivers [except for Marco Andretti, whose arrival was delayed by the frightening, tumbling accident that caused the race to end under yellow] shared an embrace. Kanaan cried as hard as anyone.

"[Dario] made me cry, and that's not good," TK admitted. "But I wasn't crying because I was sad. There's a lot of things beyond racing, and I was really happy for him. He did a phenomenal job and maybe someday my day will come. We'll get another chance and hopefully we'll get the win.

"This is Indianapolis and that's the way it is. How many other guys fall short? Look at my boss [Michael Andretti] -- he raced over 20 years, this is probably his last try, and he didn't get it.
Out of a bad day for me, it became a good day for Dario and for this team. If I could pick anybody besides me -- besides Michael -- I'm so happy it was Dario because he's one of my best friends."

Their bond dates to 1997, when both drivers arrived in what is now called the Champ Car World Series. Along with Max Papis and the late Greg Moore, Franchitti and Kanaan made for a modern day race track Rat Pack, and it wasn't a surprise when Kanaan was recruited to race for AGR when Michael Andretti bought into Team Green and moved the rechristened organization into the IndyCar Series for 2003.

Franchitti had already been with Team Green for five years, but he never tried to play the seniority card with new arrivals Kanaan and Dan Wheldon. Instead, the trio got along like gangbusters and combined to win 18 of 33 races in 2004 and 2005, with Kanaan claiming the '04 IndyCar Series title and Wheldon triumphing in '05 before he left for Target/Ganassi Racing.

Franchitti and Kanaan are still the heart and soul of AGR and that's the main reason Kanaan wept tears of joy Sunday evening in spite of his own bitter disappointment.

"TK and I are like an old married couple," Franchitti said. "I don't think we'll ever have a situation like this again and it really is a privilege to be a part of this team."

"I know I built that [chassis] setup with Dario and we're so close," Kanaan said. "He's one of the biggest reasons I signed with this team. He helped me come here; he talked to Michael about it. He's been here the longest and today was a good day for him. He came through tough times and he has never had a really good season [in the IRL]. I had my championship and my day here will come if it's meant to be.

"We'll keep trying."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.