Welcome to the club, TK.
Brazilian Tony Kanaan darted underneath leader Ryan Hunter-Reay with three laps remaining in the Indianapolis 500, then celebrated under caution as he finally crossed the yard of bricks first on Sunday after years of close calls and disappointments.
Kanaan — considered an adopted Hoosier as much as Jim Nabors by Indianapolis 500 race fans — received a thunderous ovation from the crowd of nearly 200,000 as he won for the first time in 12 tries at the hallowed 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“This is it, man. I made it,” Kanaan said, his driver’s suit still wet with milk after he doused it over his head after taking the traditional drink. “Finally they’re going to put my ugly face on the (Borg-Warner Trophy). We were known for not winning and now we are known for winning.”
Fourteen different drivers led a race that had 68 lead changes, both records. Kanaan led the most important one.
Hunter-Reay paced the field to green to start lap 198. Kanaan and rookie Carlos Munoz trailed in the enviable positions on the single-file restart.
“When you’re up front leading, especially on a restart, you might as well be driving a bulldozer,” Hunter-Reay said. “Everybody come on by.”
They went three-wide off the restart — Kanaan going low and Munoz high — with Kanaan speeding ahead into the first turn. Seconds later Dario Franchitti, looking to win his record-tying fourth Indy 500, hit the wall between turns 1 and 2. The final three laps finished under caution.
“The last lap was the longest lap of my life,” Kanaan said. “I wanted the pace car to hurry up.”
Munoz finished second (tying the rookie record), Hunter-Reay third, Marco Andretti fourth and Justin Wilson fifth.
Kanaan entered the race leading 221 laps. That’s third most in history without winning behind only Michael Andretti (431) and Rex Mays (266).
Unlike the Andretti family, Kanaan ended his bad luck at Indy. And it was a charmed victory.
A fan visited Kanaan four days ago and handed him an envelope. It contained a letter and a charm necklace he’d given her nine years ago after visiting an Indianapolis hospital. Kanaan gave the then 14-year-old, who was facing a difficult surgery after having a stroke, the charm Kanaan’s mother have given him for protection.
“I told (the girl’s) mom, ‘I don’t know if you believe in these things but I’ve had this for awhile.’ I gave it to her and she survived,” Kanaan said. “She said she’d had luck in her life and wanted to give it back to me.”
The lead changed seven times the final 20 laps between four drivers, including an incredible give-and-take battle between Hunter-Reay and Kanaan. They each led twice in see-saw fashion the final 10 circuits.
Pole sitter Ed Carpenter led six times for a race-high 37 laps, the last coming after lap 72. He finished 10th. Andretti, attempting to give his family its first driving win since 1969, led 15 times for 31 laps. His last lead came after lap 179.