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Kanaan Wins 97th Running Of The Indianapolis 500

It's the realization of a dream that began decades earlier and took him from Brazil to Europe to America. The sweat, sacrifice, physical labor and disappointment all cascaded to the floor of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Winner's Circle like the milk that ran down Tony Kanaan's firesuit during the effusive celebration.

Winning the 97th edition of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is certainly more than a big payday. It's the marquee accomplishment in a race car driver's career, the confluence of speed, skill and good fortune over 200 laps on the persnickety 2.5-mile oval.

It is "... marvelous," according to Kanaan, who earned the victory under caution when three-time champion Dario Franchitti's No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car made contract with the Turn 1 SAFER Barrier on a Lap 197 restart. Kanaan and rookie Carlos Munoz had overtaken race leader Ryan Hunter-Reay entering Turn 1 on the restart for a Lap 194 on-track incident involving Graham Rahal.

In a race that featured an astonishing 68 race-record lead changes among a race-record 14 drivers, Kanaan cruised to the checkered flag in front of more than 300,000 of his new-found closest Twitter friends and a global TV/radio audience. Kanaan, who completed the straight flush with the victory (he's finished first through fifth), wiped tears from his eyes as he guided the Chevrolet-powered No. 11 Hydroxycut KV Racing Technology/SH Racing car to the waiting Bog-Warner Trophy.

"That last lap was the longest of my life," said Kanaan, who started 12th and led 34 laps. "I got a little bit of luck today and this is for the fans. I was looking at the stands (on the cool-down lap) and it was unbelievable.

“I am speechless. I made it, and now I get to put my ugly face on that trophy. We were known for not winning (the race) and now we are known for winning. Everything was so smooth. (Race strategist) Jimmy (Vasser) was calm. I was calm. But out of the 11 times I have been here it was exactly the same, so when it was six laps to go and it went yellow I wasn't in the lead I said, 'This might be the day. Today might be the day.'

"I was in Ryan (Hunter-Reay's) position many times and then I knew I had to get the lead on the restart because it could be a yellow, which had happened to me plenty of times here. And it did. How life is funny, the yellow was my best friend."

Kanaan, 38, the 2004 IZOD IndyCar Series champion who was making his 201st consecutive Indy car start, said last week that the Speedway didn't "owe me anything." Some would argue that contention for the self-deprecating Indy car international ambassador. The historic facility at least owed the Kanaan, driving with torn tendons in his right hand, for his determination.

"I couldn't win the race by myself so I had to hire the right guy to do it," team co-owner Vasser said. "So popular. I've never seen all the people sit after the race. And they were chanting; most everyone was still in their seats when they came around on the Pace Car. You could just tell the love they have for him. He should have won one or two of these things before."

Three Andretti Autosport drivers -- Munoz, Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti -- finished second through fourth. Justin Wilson advanced nine positions to finish fifth in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing car. Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves was sixth and Team Penske teammate and first-time Indy 500 competitor placed seventh.

"That's just the way it works out," said Hunter-Reay, the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion, of the restart following the third caution of the race. "I knew I was a sitting duck and I wasn't too bummed about it because I knew we had enough laps to get it going again and have a pass back and maybe I would be third on the last lap, which is where I wanted to be and it didn't work out that way.

"Big congratulations to Tony Kanaan, though. He has been there so many times, had bad luck and for whatever reason the race has alluded him. Great champion, certainly deserves it. But man am I disappointed."

So was Franchitti, who entered the race seeking his record-tying fourth victory but wasn't in contention.

"Sums up our day," the four-time series champion said of the crash. "Our car was never really good all day. In traffic we couldn’t make anything happen. I went into the first corner on the last restart and it just didn’t turn and then the hit. When I saw who was leading, it cheered me up a little bit.

"Just phenomenal that Tony won. We were never in contention but I’m just so happy he won. He’s a very, very deserving winner."

Andretti, who started third in the No. 25 RC Cola car and led 31 laps, wrested the points lead from Castroneves after five of 19 races. He leads Takuma Sato, 168-157, heading into the inaugural Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans on the Belle Isle circuit June 1-2.  

Kanaan also has a head start in the Fuzzy's Triple Crown competition, which will award a $1 million bonus to the driver who wins the Indianapolis 500, the July 7 race at Pocono Raceway and the Oct. 19 season finale at Auto Club Speedway.

Failing a sweep on the big ovals, a driver who wins two of the three races will receive $250,000.

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Kanaan Wins 97th Running Of The Indianapolis 500
 
Kanaan Wins 97th Running Of The Indianapolis 500
It's the realization of a dream that began decades earlier and took him from Brazil to Europe to America. The sweat, sacrifice, physical labor and disappointment all cascaded to the floor of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Winner's Circle like the milk that ran down Tony Kanaan's firesuit during the effusive celebration.
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