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Kanaan, Andretti left feeling disappointed

| Monday, May 28, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS - Tony Kanaan's best driving of the day may have saved him from an ugly wreck. Marco Andretti wasn't quite so lucky.

At the end of the day, though, both were in the same spot: Watching somebody else celebrate in Victory Lane.

Kanaan had the strongest car all afternoon, leading half of the rain-shortened 166-lap race. But he spun out following someone else's crash on lap 157, effectively ending his chances when rain moved in for a second time 10 laps later.

It was yet another disappointment for Kanaan, who seems to be able to win anywhere but Indianapolis. Which sounds a lot like what the Andretti drivers have been saying for almost four decades now.

"It is the Indianapolis 500. There is life beyond that," said Kanaan, whose wife is expecting their first child. "My day will come if it's meant to be."

At least the winner was Dario Franchitti, Kanaan's teammate with Andretti Green Racing and his best friend.

"We're so close. He's one of the biggest reasons I signed with this team," Kanaan said. "Hey, it was a good day for him. Let's move on."

It was the second win in three years for team owner Michael Andretti, some consolation for his family's star-crossed history at this most famous of tracks.

Since patriarch Mario Andretti won the 500 in 1969, the family has been shut out. Mario and Michael each have had wins slip from their grasp several times, their chances often done in by the failure of a $2 part. An Andretti has started Indy 58 times, with four seconds and 13 top 10s.

For years, the most famous phrase at the Brickyard after "Gentlemen, start your engines," was "Mario Andretti is slowing down." Michael has led more laps without winning at Indy than anyone, including one lap Sunday.

"Obviously it wasn't meant to be to win it as a driver. But we won it as an owner," said Michael Andretti, who finished 13th Sunday. "Maybe I'm just meant to win 15 of these things — as an owner."

And Kanaan might have inherited his team owner's jinx.

Though he may not get the attention like Sam Hornish or Helio Castroneves, Kanaan is one of the best drivers in IndyCar. He was the 2005 league champion, and his win in Japan last month was the eighth of his career. He's won at least one race each of the last five seasons.

When it comes to the Brickyard, though, Kanaan can't catch a break.

He won the pole in 2005 and led for 54 laps, only to wind up eighth. He was leading with seven laps to go last year, but had to pit and dropped to fifth. In 2004, the last rain-shortened race, Kanaan finished second to Buddy Rice.

His 12th-place finish snapped a four-year streak of top 10 finishes — and doesn't come close to showing how dominant he was.

"A bad day for me became a good day for Dario," Kanaan said. "If I could pick anybody but me and for Michael, he was the guy."

Kanaan was in front for 83 laps, and led Hornish, the defending champ, by four seconds when a caution came out on lap 151. Kanaan ducked into the pits — and off the lead — for fuel and four new tires on lap 155. With rain threatening, that looked like it might be enough to carry him to the end.

But as the race went back to green on lap 157, Jaques Lazier hit the wall at Turn 4. Kanaan, running behind, ducked down to avoid him. But he lost control and started spinning and skidding across the track, heading straight for the pit wall.

Most drivers wouldn't have been able to avoid a wreck. But Kanaan somehow managed to right the car and went back into the pits, where his flattened right rear tire was quickly replaced.

"I don't know what happened. I think we got caught. I don't even know who crashed," Kanaan said. "I managed to keep it on the track, but after that I knew the day was over."

At least Kanaan was still running at the end.

Marco Andretti is the third generation of the illustrious family and, though only 20, the best hope to end their Brickyard heartbreak. As a rookie last year, he got beaten when Hornish passed him on the final straightaway.

He led for 13 laps Sunday but faded to the pack after the three-hour rain delay. Trying to work his way back to the front, he tried to pass in traffic on lap 163 and rubbed tires with 2005 champion Dan Wheldon.

"Both mirrors were loose. I could see that on the pit stop," Mario Andretti said. "So he had no mirror, and that's how he pinched the other guy on his right."

Marco Andretti's car veered hard into the outside wall, slid back across the track in traffic and flipped upside down after it hit the infield grass. It finally came to rest on its wheels.

"I was upside down; I was just praying to God," he said.

He stayed in the car for several minutes but finally climbed out under his own power, shaken but OK.

"I'm one lucky guy," Marco Andretti said. "It was definitely a big one."

Lucky in some ways. Not in others.

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