Saturday, August 11, 2007
Updated: August 12, 6:05 PM ET
Kanaan keeps his cool all the way to fourth win of season
By John Schwarb
Special to ESPN.com
SPARTA, Ky. -- Tony Kanaan is collecting wins at a faster clip than any other IndyCar Series driver.
Collecting attention, that is proving far tougher.
Kanaan picked up his second consecutive win, and series-leading fourth overall, Saturday at Kentucky Speedway in the Meijer Indy 300, but for the second week, Andretti Green Racing teammate Dario Franchitti went airborne and Danica Patrick, perhaps on the cusp of a top finish, went out early.
Combine that with a win at the Milwaukee Mile in June in which the main postrace story was a dustup between Patrick and Target/Ganassi Racing's Dan Wheldon, and a victory in April at the league's lone international race in Japan, and you have a driver quietly having a strong season and still in title contention.
"Everybody's talking about [points leaders] Dario and [Scott] Dixon, and nobody's talking about me, so I like that," said Kanaan, who closed his gap from 81 points behind Franchitti to 52. "I don't have that pressure. I still have no pressure."
And Saturday, he didn't own the spotlight even in winning from the pole and leading a race-high 131 laps.
Franchitti finished eighth and saw his points lead over Target/Ganassi's Dixon shrink from 24 points to eight. His night, already poor enough, downgraded to awful just after the checkered flag fell. Crossing the stripe behind the lapped car of Panther Racing's Kosuke Matsuura, Franchitti failed to slow down and drove right up on Matsuura's rear, catapulting Franchitti into the air and giving 56,482 fans at Kentucky Speedway a fright.
Franchitti was unhurt but upset, giving his team a wrecked car for the second consecutive week. Last week at Michigan, his air show came after touching wheels with Wheldon, an incident Franchitti confronted Wheldon about Friday at Kentucky, but this encore was all on his shoulders.
"That one was completely my fault; there's no excuse," Franchitti said. "After the checkered, Kosuke lifted, and I didn't realize it was checkered. I got the 'Hey, it's a checkered' [via radio] just as I was hitting him.
"Last week, I made my feelings pretty clear on where I think the blame is. This week was all me."
It was Franchitti's second incident in the race. On Lap 178, he went wide coming into pit lane to avoid Patrick and ended up in the grass, running over a pylon and destroying his front wing, which needed to be replaced.
Moments later, Patrick took the spotlight again by spinning off Turn 2 on Lap 180, bringing out the yellow. After coming through the pits again, she had a right-rear tire blow off pit lane exit, sending her black No. 7 careering up the track and nearly into a safety vehicle inspecting the track after the yellow she caused.
"I was on hot tires, so presumably I should be pretty fast on pit exit, and I was using less throttle than normal on exit and it still spun on me and then I blistered the tire so bad that the tire blew in [Turns] 1 and 2 and then I went around again," said Patrick, who finished 16th. "I'm just lucky I missed the medical truck because I really was headed straight for them."
Patrick had run as high as third in the race, although not in contention for the win. One week ago at Michigan, she had been running third before a tire failure ended what appeared to be an excellent chance at her first win.
In the midst of all that craziness, steady Kanaan briefly relinquished the lead to Vision Racing's A.J. Foyt IV (who held on for a career-best third) before taking over for good on Lap 191. He won by 1.7 seconds ahead of Dixon, a front-runner all night but not quite good enough to claim his fourth win in five races.
Kanaan's scare of the night came with about 25 laps remaining when he touched tires with Penske Racing's Helio Castroneves, who was running one lap down but racing hard with his fellow Brazilian.
"The whole league the past few weeks, since Watkins Glen, we've been having good press but we've been in the press for the wrong reasons, so I don't want to create any more," Kanaan said. "I'm definitely going to have a chat in Portuguese with him so you guys won't understand what I say. I'm not happy about it, I have to say that. I don't know what he was thinking."
Although with three races remaining in the season, Kanaan understood the mayhem developing around him, especially the parts involving his attention-grabbing teammates.
"Everybody's pushing. [Danica's] pushing to win a race, Dario, last lap, he's trying to gain a couple of positions because Dixon is second [in points]," Kanaan said. "One weekend more, it's one less chance you have to win, so people are trying everything. Some people have a tendency to get desperate, I guess."
One is proving to be a bit cooler under the late-season pressure. It's just not always headline-grabbing material.
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and is a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One weekend more, it's one less chance you have to win, so people are trying everything. Some people have a tendency to get desperate, I guess.