Vindication: Tony Kanaan Wins 97th Running Of The Indianapolis 500 After 12 Years Of Trying

By Corey Elliot
Guy Rhodes-USA Today Sports Images

When is good not good enough? For Tony Kanaan,  anything less than first feels like failure at this point when it comes to the Indianapolis 500. That’s because the 11-year veteran has seen the exact same situation he found himself in today play out in favor of his competitors far too many times.

With eight laps to go, Graham Rahal brought out the race’s fourth caution while Kanaan ran second. But when they went back to green, Kanaan made a daring move to the inside of race leader Ryan Hunter-Reay to obtain the lead just before defending champion Dario Franchitti wrecked to bring out a race-ending caution.

The Indianapolis 500 belonged to Tony Kanaan, finally.

“I felt like I had everything under control, but the 11 times that I have been here I’ve had the same thing (situation) so when there was six laps to go, I was thinking this might be the day because I had been in Ryan’s position plenty of times,” Kanaan said in his post-race interview.

“I knew I had to get the lead on the restart because there could be a yellow, which has happened to me plenty of times here. How funny is life? The yellow was my best friend.”

Sunday’s 500 was the fastest ever with an average speed of 187.433 mph, with only 21 caution laps and 68 lead changes, which shattered the record of 34 a year ago. From the start of the race, it was a constant shuffle at the front. A race that has strung out all 33 cars in the past had just nine seconds between the first and 23rd place cars. Kanaan moved from 12th to first in nine laps and stayed up towards the front for the rest of the race.

Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti were the two strongest Andretti Autosport cars running up front all day, while rookie Carlos Munoz settled into the top-five for good with under 35 laps to go. When the field came to the green flag with three laps to go, Hunter-Reay was leading; but because of the way the cars were passing, it was inevitable that his position was likely to change the second they headed into turn one.

“It was awesome running up front all day and having the car to put you up front,” Hunter-Reay said. “The frustrating part is we were quick enough. We had lap traffic coming up and I thought I could distance myself because our car was great in traffic. Right as I was getting into the tow from traffic the yellow came out. When you’re up front leading, especially on a restart, you might as well be driving a bulldozer — everybody come on by.”

The second the cars hit the start-finish line, Kanaan dove inside as Munoz jumped to the high side. In a matter of seconds, Munoz was running second just behind the new race leader Kanaan. The race was setting up an exhilarating final two laps before the caution — a finish that Munoz was ready to gamble on.

“I thought maybe I have a shot to win,” Munoz said. “I was a bit sad, I wasn’t really happy. I prefer I finish fighting for the win. Maybe it works out, maybe not but I would prefer a checkered flag race to see if I had a shot.”

A feeling all too familiar for Kanaan was one he finally didn’t have to end his month with. He has built up a love affair with fans at Indy as the favorite because of the misfortunes he has experienced. On Sunday, every person in attendance was standing and cheering as the Brazilian crossed the start finish line, pumping his fist in vindication.

“The fans already spoiled me a little when I finished 11th here after starting dead last. I got out of the car and it was exactly the same,” Kanaan said, laughing. “I had already felt it a little bit. So many people wanted me to win. It’s such a selfish thing to do because what are they getting from it? I’m the one that gets the trophy. I wanted it all my life, but I believe that this win was more for the people out there.”

You can follow Corey Elliot on twitter @CoreyElliot

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