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Published: 7/26/2006

Kanaan looking for MIS karma

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BROOKLYN, Mich. - Pass the healing crystals, assume the yoga position, and let's get ready to race. Tony Kanaan sounds like he has gone New Age on us.

The 2004 IndyCar Series champion was here at Michigan International Speedway for a round of testing recently, and he shifted into his metaphysical mode when talking about his desire to win at the two-mile oval, the site of his first big-time victory in open-wheel racing - in a 1999 CART race.

During his visit to the Irish Hills, Kanaan was trying to conjure up all the karma he hopes the place holds for him, and channel it into some kind of high horse-powered harmonic convergence for Sunday's Firestone Indy 400 at MIS.

"This is where I won my first race in the big leagues, so that's always a good thing," Kanaan said.

He spent the night before his testing session at the track, staying in his motor home in the infield and explaining that he was "trying to be nice to the track and see if she can give me a win."

Kanaan, who is fresh off his first victory of the season last week in Wisconsin, assigned the Michigan layout a gender, acknowledged her spirit, and hoped that she remembered him.

"You've got to respect it, that's all I know about it," Kanaan said. "I was driving around the track and just telling her to be nice to me."

Once the incense cleared, Kanaan ditched the Tarot cards and cut the Birkenstock talk, and then confronted the realities of the 200 laps he'll take in the heat of the day come Sunday. He expects the race to test his internal mettle, as well as the composition of his car.

"I think it's a long race, always," Kanaan said. "Here, it's such a long race that you've got to take care of your equipment.

"It's such a fast track that you've got to be careful because you run full-throttle the whole time. It's very hard on the engine and on the equipment, so it's just trying to take care of your car as much as you can during the race."

The victory last weekend has buoyed the spirits of Kanaan's Andretti Green team, which won the last two IndyCar Series championships with Kanaan (2004) and Dan Wheldon (2005), and had 11 victories in 17 series races last season.

Until Kanaan's win last Sunday at The Milwaukee Mile, Andretti Green had gone through the first nine races of this season without taking a single checkered flag. He said the drought had been tough on the team, which includes drivers Bryan Herta, Marco Andretti and Dario Franchitti.

"I am so happy. We needed that. We needed it so bad," Kanaan said about the win in Wisconsin. "We won one, so let's go get another one."

Kanaan said the questions that hounded the team up to this point were to be expected.

"I think when we did so well, when we won 10 or 11 races every year, that when you don't win, people go, 'What's wrong?' So, there's nothing wrong," he said.

"I think other people step up their games, and we kind of expected that that good moment was going to end one day. In the Indy Racing League, it's so competitive that we're not going to dominate for so long. We thought after the first year that it was going to be harder and then we did it again, but now the time has come and we're struggling a little bit."

The determination that enabled Kanaan to complete every lap of every race in his 2004 championship season - all 3,305 of them - has not waned.

"Once we had the advantage we didn't have to look at other things, but that's motor racing and that's the way it's been forever," Kanaan said. "It's good for the fans that you don't have one single team dominating. We'd love to be at the top of the game the whole time, but we'll be back for sure. I think people realize that we're too strong. We'll just have to keep working and keep digging."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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