Kanaan wins Indy 300 to stay in race for IndyCar title

Updated: August 12, 2007, 12:07 AM ET
Associated Press

SPARTA, Ky. -- Tony Kanaan says he'll do whatever it takes to help Andretti Green Racing teammate Dario Franchitti claim the IndyCar Series championship.

But if Kanaan keeps winning and Franchitti keeps going airborne, it might end up being the other way around.

Kanaan blistered the field during the Meijer Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday, easily passing A.J. Foyt IV with nine laps remaining for his second straight win and fourth of the season.

"Obviously since [the Indianapolis 500] we've been having a lot of ups and downs and we kept the spirits up and here we go," Kanaan said.

Usually one of the more laid-back drivers on the circuit, Kanaan fought back tears in the post-race celebration. Friday would have been his late father's birthday, and Sunday is Father's Day in his native Brazil.

"My wife better give me a good gift tomorrow," said Kanaan, whose wife Dani is expecting the couple's first child later this year.

Kanaan's crew gave him a decent present during qualifying on Friday, as he won the pole by posting a speed more than 1.2 mph faster than Franchitti, who started second.

Though the teammates rode together for much of the race, it was clear Kanaan's car was simply better than Franchitti's and the 16 others in the field.

"I don't like to fight, I like the easy life," Kanaan said. "That's why I took off."

The victory pulled Kanaan within 52 points of series leader Franchitti, who faded to eighth after a couple of late-race miscues. He dropped from third to sixth after getting stuck three-wide, then damaged the nose of his car when he struck a flag while entering the pits.

Franchitti's day, however, wasn't over when the checkered flag waved. He ran into Kosuke Matsuura a few hundred feet past the finish line and flew into the air for his second harrowing accident in as many weeks.

Franchitti's car pirouetted on its nose and landed against the outside wall in the first turn. He walked away unharmed, but the scene was eerily similar to a crash last week at Michigan.

The Indianapolis 500 champion was accelerating as he ran into Matsuura, and said he didn't hear the call that the race was over until just before the accident.

"That one was completely my fault, there's no excuse," Franchitti said. "I'm pretty disgusted with myself right now for that. For both my mistakes today and again it could have been a big one. I'm glad I'm OK."

Kanaan, relieved that his teammate was fine, joked Franchitti should stick to flying helicopters while leaving his car on all four wheels whenever possible.

Scott Dixon finished second and moved within eight points of Franchitti for the series lead with three races remaining, but now knows he'll have to contend with Kanaan as well.

"We definitely don't need him winning anymore," Dixon said. "We'll stay aggressive. We've just got to stay on top of our game and keep the pressure on those boys."

For now, the pressure is off Kanaan, whose car was so good he could afford to keep his cool even as longtime friend Helio Castroneves nudged Kanaan as Kanaan tried to lap him.

"Everybody is talking about Dario and Dixon and nobody is talking about me, so I like that," he said. "I like that I don't have that pressure. I still don't have that pressure. I think it's going to be really hard for me to win this championship. The best thing I can do is keep winning races."

Danica Patrick, seeking her first career victory, was struck by tire problems for the second straight week. She had rallied from 11th and was running near the front when she spun out trying to leave the pits with 20 laps to go. After regaining control of her car, she blew her right rear tire and nearly collided with a safety vehicle, finishing 16th.

"It just went. It just spun," Patrick said.

Foyt led briefly following the caution after Patrick's crash, but Kanaan had little problem passing him soon after the restart. Foyt finished third, the first top-five finish of his career.

"Obviously, Tony was very strong so there wasn't really any holding him off," Foyt said.

Marco Andretti started 15th but worked his way up to fourth. Tomas Scheckter was fifth, followed by Scott Sharp, Ed Carpenter and Franchitti.

Sam Hornish Jr., a two-time winner at Kentucky, quickly moved from seventh to third and was trying to pass Franchitti when he lost control and struck the wall coming out of turn two on lap 36. It was Hornish's third DNF of the year and second straight, just the fourth time in his eight-year IndyCar career he's failed to complete consecutive races.

Dan Wheldon tried to avoid Hornish by going high, but Hornish nicked Wheldon's car, sending him into the inside wall. Wheldon eventually returned, finishing 17th.

"Just was trying to sneak around the outside but I just couldn't get underneath him," Wheldon said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press