INDYCAR SERIES Michigan Indy 400Final
Kanaan wins final IndyCar Series race at MichiganAug 6, 2007 - 2:16 AM By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor
BROOKLYN, Michigan (Ticker) - The final IndyCar Series race at Michigan International Speedway showcased everything that is right and everything that is wrong with this form of racing.
Tony Kanaan claimed his third win of the season in Sunday's rain-delayed Firestone Indy 400, defeating teammate Marco Andretti in a dramatic final-lap battle to score his second win at MIS.
But a seven-car crash at the front of the field marred the outcome, as Dan Wheldon and Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti triggered a horrific scene. Franchitti literally became "The Flying Scot," as his car went 35 feet in the air before landing upside-down on Scott Dixon's car.
"For us it was just like death row waiting for somebody to kill you," Kanaan said. "I knew it was going to happen. I knew it. I avoided two times of sending Tomas Scheckter to the grandstands. Somebody had to give up and I knew somebody in the front was going to get stubborn enough and say I'm not going to give up.
"Really, it was a bomb waiting to explode. Somebody just pulled the plug and then they just wait. Thank God nobody is hurt."
The race restarted with 29 laps to go with Scott Sharp in front, but Andretti went three-wide to take the lead and was black-flagged by race officials for jumping the restart. He had to give back the position but remained in touch with the six cars still on the track.
Both Dixon and Hornish returned to the race after their car was repaired. At the front of the field was a trio of AGR cars lead by Kanaan, Andretti and Danica Patrick.
With 14 laps to go, the right rear tire on Patrick's car lost air pressure, forcing her to pit. She was running third at the time.
"This is the worst nightmare of my life," Patrick radioed to her crew when she realized her chance at victory was lost.
With 10 to go, it was a two-car battle between Kanaan and Andretti. Several times, Andretti tried to take the high side but couldn't pull off the pass.
With six to go, Andretti nudged just ahead of Kanaan on the backstretch, trying to keep his teammate pinned to the inside line. But Kanaan was able to maintain the lead.
Kanaan defeated Andretti by 0.0595 seconds. Sharp was third, followed by Kosuke Matsuura and 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice.
"It was fierce, dramatic, beautiful and frightening, making this race IndyCar's version of Talladega, complete with "The Big One" at 220 miles per hour.
That is why the drivers were glad to make this the final IndyCar race at the big 2-mile oval because the cars are so close together, there is no margin for error.
"It is a great show but there is no margin for error," Franchitti said. "A lot of it is how brave you are going to be, how stupid you are going to be and how fast the car is. I prefer the shorter tracks and road courses. It's difficult to get an advantage here so that is why crazy things happen."
None of the drivers involved in the crash were injured.
"It looks like he bobbed and I weaved at the same time and we got together," Franchitti said. "When I opened my eyes and was 30 feet in the air I said to myself, this isn't good. I said to Dixie (Dixon) it was a pretty soft landing. Dixon said, 'It's because you landed on me.'
"I told him we have to quit meeting like that."
With a totally lack of promotion by Michigan International Speedway, which announced two weeks ago it would not accept the IndyCar Series proposed race date for 2008, there were only 20,000 tickets sold for the 132,000 oval. After five hours of rain delay, the green flag waved with between 12,000 to 15,000 fans in the grandstands.
"We've been saying forever we don't need to come to this place any more," Kanaan said. "It got so competitive and the drivers are so good then you see what happened today. It's crazy. It's just sit and wait for a disaster.
"It's been four years we've had the same cars, the same engines and the same tires. Everybody is catching up. People say only three teams are winning but you see Tomas Scheckter and Scott Sharp getting up there and then you start seeing everybody running together again. Then people get crazy and go three- or four-wide and start bringing the pack back together."
Kanaan said the IndyCar series at tracks like Michigan and Texas have reached the crazy point.
"For us, it's not a good feeling," Kanaan said. "You come to places like this and you don't say 'Good luck' any more, you say 'be safe.' That's the nature of the cars with the nature of the track. The type of cars we have lately with the evolution we did don't suit these types of tracks any more.
"We have to think about what we are going to do. You don't want to touch wheels at 220 miles an hour. That's not a good thing."
This style of racing left the drivers tap dancing on a razor-blade of danger. There were 23 lead changes among nine drivers with Franchitti leading eight times for 101 laps and Kanaan leading three times for 30 laps.
But there were six caution flags for 63 laps, which included Vitor Meira and Helio Castroneves crashing into each other on lap 59 with the two Brazilians stressing their displeasure with each other in their native language.
Castroneves was so upset, he walked the entire distance from the crash site in turn 1 to the infield care center in the middle of the infield to work off his anger.
Darren Manning slammed hard into the wall on lap 114 and the left rear wheel snapped loose and landed on top of him with the suspension pieces nearly spearing him like a kabob. Manning suffered lacerations of both knees.
Those were only preliminaries to the "Big One" on lap 144 when Franchitti and Wheldon were side-by-side refusing to give in before both cars touched. By the time Franchitti landed on Dixon's car, Ed Carpenter, A.J. Foyt IV and Tomas Scheckter were also involved.
Amazingly, they all walked into and out of the care center. Dixon and Hornish would even continue in the race once their cars were repaired to gain some extra points in the IndyCar title race, which still has Franchitti leading by 24 points heading into next Saturday night's race at Kentucky.
Wheldon and Franchitti talked to each other in the care center and both admitted it wasn't the fault of the drivers but a side-effect of this type of racing.
"That superspeedway style of racing you always run the risk of something like this happening," Wheldon said. "In IndyCar racing at 200 miles an hour when something like that happens you are very thankful everybody is OK. It looked like I was coming up just a touch and Dario started to come down with normal superspeedway stuff and unfortunately, we touched.
"It's racing on superspeedways. You are fighting for every bit of real estate and when you get to a point in a race like that you know you are going to get crowded into the corner and when you have a car that is understeering up you try to give yourself a little bit of room going in."
Kanaan collected $110,800 for winning this version of "Risky Business." He won the race at an average speed of 141.481 miles per hour and was able to teach young Andretti how to stage a close finish but remain safe.
"It was an exciting last couple laps for sure," Kanaan said. "I was pretty happy that I knew at that point an AGR car was going to win the race. It was either going to be Marco or me."
Andretti's second-place finish tied his season best. He also finished second at Iowa last month.
"We just didn't have enough speed like we did in a big pack at the end to get by TK (Kanaan)," Andretti said. "I think it showed that we can win any of these races the rest of the season."
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