Published May 27, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Kanaan was feeling lucky Sunday.
Unfortunately for the Brazilian, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was relentless — again.
Despite using a brilliant move to go from fifth to first with 15 laps left in the Indianapolis 500 and still leading with six laps remaining, Kanaan watched helplessly as Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon zipped past him on the final restart and Takuma Sato blew past him a lap later.
He never got a chance to catch the leaders again and wound up third.
"I have this thing that I know whoever leads with 10 to go never wins," Kanaan said afterward. "So I said, 'I'll let Dario go' and then, man, I'm leading this thing and I knew I was going to be a sitting duck again."
For Kanaan, it was yet another bitter ending in his frustrating Indy career.
In 10 previous races at the Brickyard, the crowd favorite had started in the first two rows eight times and produced four top-five finishes before Sunday. Two years ago, after qualifying 33rd in a mangled car, Kanaan even swept through the pack to finish 11th and at one point looked like he may become the first driver to win the race from the No. 33 spot. This year, Kanaan came to Indy with the dubious distinction of leading more laps led than any active non-winner and with hopes that driving the No. 11 car in his 11th race might be enough to the turn the tables on those racing spirits.
Turns out, what he really needed was better timing and maybe a Honda engine.
So instead of sipping the traditional milk in Victory Lane, Kanaan and his team were relegated yet again to explaining what went wrong.
"I didn't think he could have held them (Franchitti and Dixon) off," said Jimmy Vasser, co-owner of KV Racing Technology. "I just thought he had a better car coming from behind."
Actually, most of Sunday's drivers fared better drafting in the new Indy cars than pulling out front.
The result was a record 35 lead changes and a surprise: Honda's first victory of the season. Kanaan, of course, was using what was thought to be the more powerful Chevrolet engines.
Kanaan showed everyone what these cars could do in traffic when he made a gutsy pass on the second-to-last restart of the day.
With the leaders lined up in single-file order, Kanaan simply dropped back in the pack, accelerated quickly and sling-shotted his way past the leaders, going from fifth to first in a single move with 15 laps left.
Suddenly, the unluckiest driver in this year's field looked like he just might change his long list of misfortune.
Though the crowd roared with approval each time Kanaan crossed the yard of bricks in first, not everyone was happy with how Kanaan got there.
"He almost pulled it off," said Rahal, the 1986 Indy winner and now Sato's team owner. "You know 10 laps from the finish, are the officials going to black flag you? That's what he was counting on. If you have a normal restart, there's no way in hell you can go from sixth to first."
Officially, IndyCar's scoring sheet listed Kanaan in fifth at the time of the move, and despite an in-race protest from Rahal, series officials opted not to penalize Kanaan.
But being in the lead was penalty enough.
Over the next several laps, Kanaan and Franchitti, ex-teammates with Michael Andretti's team, traded leads until a crash knocked out Marco Andretti on lap 188.
When the race restarted on lap 195, Kanaan and almost everyone else in Gasoline Alley knew what was coming.
"It was sort of like me in 2006," Michael Andretti said. "I think Tony knew deep down it would be hard to hold them off."
It was impossible.
With the hard-charging Ganassi cars cutting inside, both swiftly moved past Kanaan and Sato did the same thing on the next lap. That made it a three-man race to the finish line with Kanaan back in that unlucky No. 4 spot and forced Kanaan to find something to savor other than his first trip to Victory Lane.
"He (Wheldon) is probably laughing his butt off right now and his three best friends finishing one, two, three. What a great way to finish this race," Kanaan said. "Obviously so close again. I'm happy. I lost many times here, but to lose it this way, battling until the end, it's not a loss."