What A Race!
I’ve been coming here for a lot of years, and I’m not sure I’ve come away from a race happier than I am today with Tony Kanaan finally winning the Indianapolis 500. When Dan Wheldon won in 2011, it was a feel-good story of a small one-off effort beating the big teams – but Wheldon already had a Indianapolis 500 win in his back pocket, In all candor, Tony Kanaan’s window was starting to close. At 38, one had to wonder how many more good opportunities he was going to get.
Not many gave him much of a shot in this race – except for yours truly, of course (sorry, I had to get that in). He was starting twelfth and was relatively quiet all month. In all honesty, my pick was based partly on logic but also on sentiment. I liked his chances on the start. I felt like with him starting on the outside, he would do one of his patented moves and he would pass several cars by the completion of lap One – assuming the start was clean. It was and he did. If I’m not mistaken (and I may be), he passed five cars and moved to seventh on the first lap (maybe the second). Yesterday morning during the driver’s meeting, I was talking to someone very close to Kanaan, who told me that “it is a very good sign that Tony isn’t complaining about the car. When he says nothing – that’s good.” Apparently, he had reason to not complain. He was in the top-five all day long.
The race was back and forth all day long. There were sixty-eight lead changes – shattering last year’s record of thirty four. A total of fourteen different drivers led the race. Many led, but then fell back out of realistic contention – such as Will Power who finished nineteenth, EJ Viso who ended up eighteenth and pole-sitter Ed carpenter who led the most laps (thirty-seven) but finished tenth. The race was contested all day between Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and sometimes AJ Allmendinger and Carlos Muñoz. There were times when I was convinced Kanaan would win, but I also thought it would go to Hunter-Reay or Andretti at times. Any of the three would have been deserving. Had it remained green, there is no telling what kind of finish we would have seen.
As it was, fate stepped in. Shortly after Kanaan passed Hunter-Reay on a re-start on Lap 198, Dario Franchitti smacked the Turn Two wall. Out came the yellow, pretty much assuring Tony kanaan of fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming an Indianapolis 500 champion.
While many in the crowd were pulling for Ed carpenter or Marco Andretti – you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wasn’t happy with this victory. Tony Kanaan has more than paid his dues. He finished second here in 2004. He has led in nine of his twelve races here. He has had some hard hits in this race and has had heartbreak here as well. There have been times when he was leading late but gave up the lead due to fuel miscalculations. You know he wondered if he would ever win here, and most fans did too. He admitted in his post-race news conference that he was beginning to resign himself to the fact that he may never win. He said he tried to convince himself that he was OK with that. But now that he has realized his dream – he is extremely happy.
It took Tony Kanaan twelve starts to get his first win here. That’s not a record, but it’s up there. Three-time winner Johnny Rutherford finally won in his eleventh start. Sam Hanks won in his thirteenth. Kanaan was in danger of being forever mentioned in conversations with names like Michael Andretti, Lloyd Ruby, Ted Horn and Rex Mays – some of the greatest drivers to have never won the Indianapolis 500. His name will never be in that conversation again. For the rest of his life, his name will always come after the words ”Indianapolis 500 winner”.
I remain pretty stoic most of the time while I watch this race, but I have to admit – I got chills watching Tony Kanaan cross the finish line on Lap Two-Hundred. I know how much it means to him and I know how much this means to his fans. This place owes nothing to anyone, and it owed Tony Kanaan nothing. But you have to feel good – as close as he’s come and the heartache he’s endured here – he was finally able to close the deal.
Casual fans will complain that IndyCar should adopt a green-white-checker format. Please. That cheapens many of the ninety-seven races that have already been won here. Race strategy is built around five-hundred miles – not five-hundred and five…or more. All three of Dario Franchitti’s wins have come under the yellow. Three of the last four Indianapolis 500’s have been completed under the caution. This is a race – it’s not entertainment. Leave that to other series that appeal mainly to the lowest common denominator. After the frenetic pace we saw all day, I have no problem at all with the race finishing under caution. End of discussion.
I am anxious to get back home and watch the DVR. I may be able to watch the local delayed tonight at the hotel, but I usually fall asleep during that before Lap Thirty. I’m hoping that the excitement we felt in the stands translated well to television. The speed on the track is never captured on television, but hopefully the drama and excitement translated. To use a way overused cliché, this one was one for the ages. Sometimes clichés apply. This is one of those times.