Tony Kanaan has always been philosophical about his not winning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He said that he felt the track picks the winner. On Sunday, IMS picked No. 11.
Kanaan had taken the lead on a restart on lap 198, passing Ryan Hunter-Reay, but another incident brought out the caution. IndyCar does not do the “green, white, checker,” so when it became clear that Kanaan would finally win the biggest race of his life, the stands erupted.
“Finally, they are going to put my ugly face on this trophy. We are known for not winning, and now we are winning,” Kanaan said. “I think the fans spoil me. So many people wanted me to win. I believe this win was more for the people out there. Wins are important. Trophies are really nice, but the people are what it’s about.”
As he drove down pit row, crews of competitors’ teams were standing there to offer congratulations to a champion like no other. “I guess it kind of proves that nice guys can win,” Kanaan said.
Kanaan dreamed the night before the race that he won. He woke up with the thought that he was going to do it. Although he started 12th, he took the lead by the ninth lap and never dropped out of the top 10.
Whether he believes in good luck charms or not, Kanaan had two with him.
Nine years ago, he visited Andrea Brown, who had had a stroke at age 14, in the hospital. That day, he gave her a medal. Brown returned the medal to him just days ago to use as good luck. When he climbed from the car, Kanaan showed Brown’s medal. He had it with him the whole race. “She said she had enough luck in her life, and it was time to give it back,” he said.
If that was not enough, Alex Zanardi, a friend and former driver who lost his legs to an accident, gave him his 2012 London Paralympics medal. Zanardi told them to rub the medal all over the car. “I’m starting to think it works,” Zanardi said. “It’s a dream come true to see Tony win.”
As soon as Kanaan starting talking, he had to honor those who mean the most to him.
“This is for the fans. This is for my dad who is not here. I was looking at the stands, and it was unbelievable. This is it. I made it,” he said.
KV Racing Technology team owner Jimmy Vasser met Kanaan in Victory Circle. “Indy 500. I just can’t believe it,” Vasser said. “Never won here as a driver so I had to hire the right guy.”
Kanaan has never bemoaned the fact that many times he was in position to win, but it did not. “That’s life, but I believe that good things will happen to good people,” he had said.
He joined KV Racing Technology in 2010 after leaving Andretti Autosport. He finished ninth in the points last year, but the team decided winning at Indy was more important. “We set out at the end of the year to really focus on this race and not the championship,” Vasser noted.
“He’s been a leader of drivers. He has always offered to help other drivers. That’s why it’s such a popular victory. Driving around in the pace car, after the race, the fans were still going crazy,” Vasser said.
When the yellow flag came out with eight laps to go, Kanaan felt the potential for another yellow at the end was high. He positioned himself to go for the lead.
“Anytime the yellow comes with 15 laps or less to go, people go crazy,” Kanaan said. He felt that being in the lead was vital. Another caution would surely end the race.
When Franchitti brought out the final caution, Kanaan said that he could see his friend on the side and saw that he was mad at himself, but as soon as Franchitti saw him go by in the lead, Franchitti started waving to him.
Kanaan, 38, made 12 Indy starts before his victory. “Dario proved that old guys can drive fast,” he joked after Sunday’s race.
Kanaan, always a self-deprecating person, can’t wait to see his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy. “They can’t make it any uglier than it already is,” he concluded.