BROOKLYN, Mich. The best race that likely next to nobody saw took place at Michigan International Speedway yesterday, and Tony Kanaan emerged from the rain and the fog, an arduous delay, and the mayhem of a spectacular eight-car crash as the winner, or maybe just the lead survivor.
After a five-hour rain stoppage winnowed down an already sparse crowd, and pushed the broadcast of the Firestone Indy 400 to the background on ESPN Classic, a highly competitive and entertaining string of dogfight racing commenced, interrupted only by a series of minor crashes and one biggie for the highlight reel.
With less than 60 laps left in the 200-lap affair, IndyCar Series points leader Dario Franchitti was going inch-for-inch with Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick in an extended three-wide slugfest for the lead. Wheldon then got under Franchitti in a sprint down the backstretch, sending the Indy 500 champ airborne for two and a half flips as pieces peeled off his car and another half dozen cars on the track below got caught up in the mess.
That was some of the scariest stuff I ve ever seen, Tomas Scheckter said. I saw Dario fully upside down in the air. Just scary, scary stuff.
Franchitti, whose car was bouncing into bits and pieces, remarkably was not injured in the crash and walked away once safety crew members lifted and manually turned his car back upright.
Wheldon he came up a bit, and I came down a bit, and we were running so close trying to get an advantage it s stupid I guess, Franchitti said. We touched, and the next thing I know I m up in the air, then I m going backwards. When I stopped and I realized I was still in one piece, it sunk in. I m a lucky guy.
Franchitti had led the bulk of the race and seemed intent on protecting his diminishing points lead, which Scott Dixon had cut by about 60 percent over the last three races all Dixon victories.
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But Dixon was caught up in the same fracas that claimed Franchitti, Wheldon, Scheckter, Sam Hornish Jr., Ed Carpenter, and A.J. Foyt IV, essentially knocking them all out of the race.
Patrick slipped by the mess on the high side and seemed well-positioned to make a run for the first victory of her career following the extended caution and cleanup period, but a tire on her car started losing air with 15 laps to go and Patrick running third. She was bitter over the timing of the problem.
That was the nightmare of my life, a frustrated and teary Patrick said after finishing seventh in the race, which had just seven cars running at the end.
Kanaan, who also got the first win of his Indy car career here, was a less than jubilant victor.
It was a crazy race, and I did not enjoy a single bit of it, except for the winning part, Kanaan said. There was too much bumping tires and people doing foolish things.
Kanaan, a former IndyCar Series season champion, was miffed at most of the field over the ultra-aggressive nature of the racing.
I definitely think a lot of people disrespected each other out there, and it s nobody s fault but our own, Kanaan said.
I saw at least 25 potential cars that could have flipped and I really don t think that s the way to race. For us it was like we were on death row, waiting for somebody to kill you. I knew it was going to happened. Two times I avoided sending Scheckter into the grandstands before that all happened. It was just a bomb waiting to get exploded.
After the lengthy cleanup, the race returned to green with just 29 laps remaining. Marco Andretti grabbed the lead from Scott Sharp, but was penalized for jumping the start, moving Kanaan into the front position. Kanaan then led Andretti and Patrick in a 1-2-3 Andretti Green Racing parade until Patrick s tire problems allowed Sharp to move up and finish third.
The second-place Andretti sparred with Kanaan over the final 10 laps, but could not work past his veteran teammate.
Tony he s the reason I m in Indy cars at 19 years old, Andretti said. It was an eventful day, for sure, but we just didn t have enough at the end. We had a lot of lucky breaks to survive this thing. Someone was looking out for us.
Kanaan, who led for 30 laps, including the final 27, sounded more relieved than euphoric over his victory.
We didn t have the best car, but to win races you need to be lucky too, Kanaan said.
Contact Matt Markey at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6510.