Tony Kanaan Wins a Remarkable Indianapolis 500
Then something like the 2013 Indianapolis 500 comes along and reminds you why you fell in love with this sport in the first place.
The highlight video doesn't even come close to showing the amount of action there was in this race. There were 68 lead changes, doubling the race record set last year. 14 different drivers, over a third of the field, led at least one lap, and half of those looked like contenders to win at one time or another. Thanks to an unprecedented 134 lap caution-free period, it ended up the fastest 500 in history with an average speed of over 187 mph, and in the end, it was perpetual bridesmaid and fan favorite Tony Kanaan finally taking the checkered flag, drinking the milk, and kissing the bricks at Indianapolis. TK started 12th, was already in 7th by the end of the lap one, and first took the lead on lap 9. He was take it 14 more times after that, the crowd going nuts each and every time. He took the lead for good on the final restart on lap 198, getting by leader Ryan Hunter-Reay, holding off rookie Carlos Munoz, and holding the lead when Dario Franchitti hit the wall and brought out the race ending caution. The final two laps involved the crowd realizing that the People's Champion had finally done it and won the race.*
* After the race, I finally saw the chatter and was disappointed to see calls for a Green-White-Checkered finish, an unfortunate byproduct of the NASCAR-ization of American racing. It is the Indianapolis 500, not 505 or 510. I understand some leeway has to be made for the show (like the red flag late in last year's season finale), but I draw the line at allowing for "overtime." It's just too gimmicky for my taste.**
** Yes, I'm aware that this style of racing at Indy can be considered a bit gimmicky, given how much of a hole the lead cars punch, allowing for easy slipstreaming. That seems to be mostly a function of Indy and its layout compared to the other ovals on the schedule. If aero kits actually come to pass next year though, things could look quite different, but at least that's a function of specs, not competition rules.
For those viewing their only IndyCar race of the year, it had everything. Competition, thrilling action all the time, and plenty of compelling storylines, culminating in the fulfillment of the most compelling story of all. If that race didn't make those people IndyCar fans, nothing will. It's that simple.
The storylines that weren't fulfilled on Sunday though will carry over the rest of the season and into the 2014 Indy 500. There's Marco Andretti, who finished fourth on Sunday, about his lowest spot all day. He's quietly put up a very strong 500 record without winning as he tries to end the drought of racing's most famous name at Indy. There's Hunter-Reay, the reigning IndyCar champion who was at the wrong place at the wrong time and finished 3rd. There's Munoz, the hotshot 21 year old who everyone thought would crash but ended up finishing 2nd. There's Ed Carpenter, the local boy polesitter who actually ended up leading the most laps, but fell back in the second half of the race and didn't have the car to get back up front. There's Takuma Sato, who despite a disappointing day still sits 2nd in the points (to Marco) driving for the legendary AJ Foyt. Finally, there's Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti. Their quests for four Indy wins are far from finished.
As many have said in the past about sports, "Deserve has nothing to do with it." However, there's a reason so many, from fans to other drivers, were so happy for Kanaan. TK has raced in 12 Indy 500's and led in nine of them. In 2004 and 2007, he led when the race was stopped for rain, only to lose the lead once the race resumed. In 2010, he started last and charged to as high as 2nd. He's finished 2nd once, 3rd twice, 4th once, and 5th once. Last year, he was the one in the wrong place at the wrong time and was passed on the last restart while leading. He was the 2004 IndyCar champion and even today is considered the best overtaker in the series. Throughout all his near misses at Indy though, he never complained and though the Speedway owed him something.
When Kanaan finally took the checkered flag on Sunday, he won it for himself, his crew, and his family. At the same time, he also won it for the quarter million people who wanted it just as bad as he did, and in a way, won it for everyone who still hasn't given up on the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.