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Tony Kanaan Finally Wins Indy 500

8:19 PM, May 26, 2013   |    comments
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Chris Jenkins, Special to USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS - It's the Indianapolis 500, not the Indianapolis 500-and-whatever.

One anti-climactic finish to an otherwise-thrilling race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday isn't likely to change that, no matter how odd the sight of a race finishing under caution might have seemed to any NASCAR fans tuning in.

And it's hard to imagine many people went home unhappy with the show after a race-record 68 lead changes and fan favorite Tony Kanaan finally brought home an Indy win - a triumph that will be seen as well-deserved from the grandstands to the garage area.

Kanaan likely didn't care one bit that it came under caution, showing off his self-deprecating humor after the race.

"I was looking at the stands, and it was unbelievable," Kanaan said. "This is it, man. I made it. Finally they're going to put my ugly face on this trophy."

Until the final caution, Indy was putting on perhaps its best show ever. The frantic 68 lead changes didn't just break an all-time race record - it doubled it. The previous record was 34, set in last year's race.

"I think this race, for the fans, it was unbelievable," Kanaan said.
Still, third-place finisher Ryan Hunter-Reay couldn't help but think what would happen if IndyCar were to adopt something like NASCAR's version of overtime, the "green-white-checkered" finish stock car racing officials use to add laps after a late-race accident to help ensure a green-flag finish.Although Hunter-Reay called NASCAR's overtime provision "a bit gimmicky," he certainly wouldn't have minded a shot at the win.

"If you can talk them into rolling us back out there, I'd be all for it," Hunter-Reay said, drawing laughs from a room full of reporters.

That would be tinkering with tradition, though, something that doesn't always go over well at a track that has hosted races since 1911. At Indy, Jim Nabors sings "Back Home Again in Indiana," speedway matriarch Mari Hulman George gives the command to start engines, and the race is 500 miles.

"This is Indy, there's a certain way things are done," Hunter-Reay said. "If tradition is tradition, we don't materialize results, we don't try to produce results out of green-white-checkereds. It can be a bit gimmicky. With that said, I think what fans want is most important."

And, as Hunter-Reay noted, hypothetically adding laps to a race might have unintended consequences.

"That (accident) would have taken another three or four laps to clean up," Hunter-Reay said. "Some cars might not have had enough fuel to finish."

Hunter-Reay was the leader when the race restarted with three laps to go. But the way these cars behave in traffic, the leader actually was at a disadvantage to the drivers directly behind him, who receive an aerodynamic "tow" that increased their speed.

Hunter-Reay said he was a "sitting duck" out front.

"When you're up front leading, especially on a restart, you might as well be driving a bulldozer," Hunter-Reay said.

He was right. Kanaan darted past him on the inside right after the race went green again.

Then Dario Franchitti crashed, bringing out the caution. There wasn't enough time to clean up all the debris and restart the race, so Kanaan took the checkered flag under yellow - his first win in 12 career starts.

A rookie, Colombian Carlos Munoz, finished second. Hunter-Reay was third, followed by Marco Andretti - giving the Andretti Autosport team three of the top four spots. Chevrolet-powered cars took six of the top seven spots.One of the most impressive runs of the day was by A.J. Allmendinger, who led three times for a total of 23 laps on his way to a seventh-place finish - and another step toward redemption for a driver whose reputation was tarnished in 2012.

"It was probably the coolest feeling in my life to take the lead at Indy and lead the Indy 500," Allmendinger said. "That's a feeling I'll never forget."

Allmendinger got his start in Indy-style racing but never raced in the Indy 500 before this year. Instead, he switched to stock cars, only to have his NASCAR career stall when he was suspended for failing a drug test last year.

Allmendinger blamed the positive test on his unintentional consumption of the prescription drug Adderall, and completed a NASCAR-directed recovery program. He still lost his ride with Penske Racing.

But that wasn't the end of the road for his association with iconic racing team owner Roger Penske, who decided to put him in one of his Indy cars this year.

Meanwhile, Franchitti and Helio Castroneves both fell short in their bids to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears as four-time Indy 500 winners.

But if somebody else had to win, it might as well have been "T.K." - a sentiment echoed by several fellow drivers.

"I'm very happy (for Kanaan)," Castroneves said. "Well-deserved for him. Well-deserved for his team. Hell of a job."
 

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