- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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WEST ALLIS, Wis. -- Buried at the back of the pack less than halfway into the ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt 225, Tony Kanaan could have taken it easy and settled for a top-10 finish.
The 32-year old Brazilian was in a sour mood, his race seemingly ruined by a poorly-timed full-course caution that came out when Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick banged wheels in Turn 1 while disputing fourth place.
The yellow flag was bad news for TK because he had to pit for fuel. The pits were closed, but Kanaan had no choice but to peel off for a splash. His mood didn't improve when he was brought back in again because he somehow ended up three gallons short of a full tank.
"I wasn't a very happy camper at that point, and I forget that people monitor our radios," Kanaan said. "I told my team to get their stuff together, although I used a different term.
"Of course, the next time I came in, I missed my mark, I hit a bump and almost ran my guy over. And for sure, payback comes. They told me to get my stuff together. So we came to the agreement that the last stop would be a good one, and it was."
In the subsequent stint, the 7-Eleven car moved from fifth to second between Laps 169 and 197. Helio Castroneves' two-second lead began to dwindle, but then in a highly atypical failure, his rear wing flopped down exiting Turn 4 four laps later and the Team Penske car snapped into a spin, coming to rest straddling the start/finish line after clouting the inside wall nose first.
"I had that thing won," Castroneves declared. "There's no way I wasn't going to win that race unless something very unusual happened and it did. I just have to laugh it off."
Sam Hornish Jr.'s car looked ready to suffer a similar failure later in the race, dropping the defending IndyCar Series champion to ninth place a lap down.
"We'll have to see what happened," said Penske Racing President Tim Cindric. "Those were brand-new parts on both cars, no different to what we have always used."
Castroneves' demise completed Kanaan's rise to the top, and he duly reeled off the last 11 green-flag laps to win by 2.51 seconds over Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti. It was Kanaan's second consecutive victory at the Milwaukee Mile.
"After the pit stop, I knew it was going to be a long day," Kanaan said. "But I didn't panic. I said, 'Well, I've got to pass 11 cars now.'
"I knew I had a good car, but when you put yourself back there, anything can happen. I was just trying to stay out of trouble."
Franchitti's second-place finish moved the Scotsman into the lead of the IndyCar Series standings by three points over Kanaan, his Andretti Green teammate. But AGR's star performance Sunday was turned in by Patrick, who made up a lap and finished eighth after her Lap 89 clash with Wheldon.
Danica got a run on Franchitti and Wheldon when they got balked in traffic coming off Turn 4. She made it cleanly by Franchitti on the pit straight and tried to slip inside Wheldon entering Turn 1, but the Ganassi driver turned in, bumping Patrick's car into a lazy slide through the infield grass.
I'm not racing to be famous or to go make the news. The prize money check is mine, the trophy is mine, and I've got 50 points in the bank. I'm going for the championship, so if they want to make the front page of USA Today, be my guest.
She subsequently had to pit to have a steering arm replaced and drove well to claim eighth place at the flag. After the race, Patrick marched down to the Ganassi Racing pit to confront Wheldon, and after a short, animated conversation, she shoved the Englishman before stalking away.
"It seems to me Dan got passed," Patrick said. "I told him if he thinks I won't remember this, he's crazy."
Responded Wheldon, who finished fourth behind his teammate Scott Dixon: "She's a little disgruntled, but what goes around comes around. She nearly put me in the pit wall at Indianapolis, and I certainly don't have any problem with anyone else on the track.
"She's probably feeling the pressure of not winning races when her teammates are," Wheldon added. "It's unfortunate for her, but she's just being Danica. She'll be fine when she calms down. But she's messing with the wrong person if she wants to get feisty."
The Dan vs. Danica contretemps livened up what was generally a pretty dull show by IndyCar standards. Castroneves led 126 of 201 laps before his retirement and looked like he had things comfortably under control.
But then again, Kanaan thought he had things under control at Indianapolis, where he led 83 of the 166 laps that were run, but lost his chance to win when pit-stop strategy stuck him midpack in the path of a spinning backmarker.
And the Patrick/Wheldon confrontation pulled the spotlight off of Kanaan after his victory. But he wasn't complaining.
"I'm not racing to be famous or to go make the news," he said. "The prize-money check is mine, the trophy is mine, and I've got 50 points in the bank. I'm going for the championship, so if they want to make the front page of USA Today, be my guest.
"Maybe one day if I feel I need some attention, I'll just get out of the car and beat the hell out of somebody," he added with a chuckle. "Then we'll make the front page for sure."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
Tony Kanaan is more than happy to let other drivers hog the spotlight -- especially feuding Danica Patrick and Dan Wheldon -- as long as he collects the trophies and the checks, writes John Oreovicz.