Prior to Sunday, the Indianapolis 500 had seen its share of drama, huge crowds and great champions. While the crowd for the 97th Indianapolis 500 might have been slightly smaller than past years (though still nearly 200,000), it might have roared louder than ever.
From start to finish, the 500 provided drama never before seen at IMS. 68 lead changes, combined with thrilling charges by AJ Allmendinger and eventual winner Tony Kanaan, kept most fans enthralled for nearly three hours. Yes, the race ended under caution, but…
It hardly mattered to the Speedway masses. When the final caution confirmed Kanaan’s greatly anticipated win, the crowd seemed to shower years of pent-up love and admiration for the likable Brazilian. Indeed, it’s hard to come up with a more popular winner in at least 20 years.
SPEED’s Robin Miller focuses on TK’s backstory (unlike several drivers, he has earned his spot on the grid, without buying it and with no hint of nepotism* involved.) and authentic personality to explain his appeal to race fans. Obviously, these traits matter in creating a bond between athlete and fan.
But, oddly enough, it almost seems like his ballsy race craft is being overlooked. Even if you think “passing was too easy” (more on that to come), remember that he had to charge from 14th starting position to challenge for the lead in the first fuel run. He gained several of the positions on both the initial start and first restart of the race. In typical TK style, he did it the hard but thrilling way- on the outside.
As a racer, that’s what makes him so special. Fans know that he will never leave anything out on the track. For others, this would likely devolve into recklessness, but by this point in his career, Kanaan seems to know “the limit.” Sure, he flirts with danger (what driver doesn’t?), but refuses to marry it. All the while, especially on the ovals, you’ll find him charging to the front.
His win at Indianapolis was a long time coming. He had led in numerous 500’s, only to be betrayed by horrible racing luck. Through it all, he never moped, never whined and never stopped charging. On Sunday, the right man was finally rewarded.
*To be clear, both Marco Andretti (IndyCar points leader) and Graham Rahal belong in the series. Would they be there with different last names? Good question.