Tony Kanaan held on to win the 2013 Indianapolis 500 for the first time in his career.
(Photo: Brian Spurlock, USA TODAY Sports)
INDIANAPOLIS - The caution finally flew at the right time at the Indianapolis 500 for Tony Kanaan, who won the Greatest Specatcle in Racing by taking the lead from Ryan Hunter-Reay on a restart with three laps to go.
A caution flag flew for a crash involving Dario Franchitti seconds later, freezing the field and putting Kanaan in the winner's circle for the 97thrunning of the 500-mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Rookie Carlos Munoz finished second, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Justin Wilson.
"I got a little bit of luck today," said the 2004 series champion, who is extremely popular among his peers. "It's for the fans. It's for my dad who's not here. But mainly for all of you guys. I was looking at the stands, and it was unbelievable.
"I want to thank everybody. I've never seen so many people from other teams (offering congratulations). This is it, man. I made it. I'm finally going to put my name on that trophy. ... We were known for not winning, now we're known for winning. I don't know what to say."
It was the 16th career victory for Kanaan, who was in a Dallara-Chevrolet for KV Racing. He conquered the 2.5-mile oval for the first time in his 12th attempt and had led eight of the previous 11, including the past seven.
It was a stunning turn of fortunes for the Brazilian, who dominated the rain-shortened 2007 event by leading a race-high 83 laps but was burned by two ill-timed yellows (one for inclement weather) and finished 12th behind winner Franchitti.
"He was great all day," car owner Jimmy Vasser said. "We got a little luck from Alex Zanardi today. He gave us his gold medal from London and said 'rub this all over the car.' The Indy 500. I can't believe it."
The final restart with three laps remaining was set up when the yellow flag flew a fourth time for Graham Rahal hit the wall, bringing out the first caution in more than 130 laps.
The race featured a record 68 lead changes, shattering the mark of 34 set last year.
As Kanaan's team began to celebrate as he raced the final lap behind the pace car, the driver who's only before seen heartbreak at the Indy track urged caution over the radio: "Let's cross this finish line first."
And when it was official, Kanaan quickly thanked his crew: "Thanks guys. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."
With nearly half the field taking turns at the point, several potential winner storylines emerged over the course of 500 miles. The most compelling was AJ Allmendinger, whose career seemed finished last season after he failed a NASCAR drug test (he said he unknowingly took an Adderall pill) and lost his Penske Racing ride in Sprint Cup.
Team owner Roger Penske called Allendinger in January and offered him another chance in an Indy car this season, and he delivered Sunday as an Indy 500 rookie.
Allmendinger, who switched to stock cars in 2007 and hadn't raced an Indy-style car in more than six years before starting IndyCar races last month at Barber Motorsprots Park in Leeds, Ala., and Long Beach, Calif., was the fastest Team Penske car throughout practice the past two weeks. He qualified a team-best fifth, and teammate Will Power liberally borrowed elements of Allmendinger's setup to make his Dallara-Chevrolet faster.
After struggling early with handling that kept him out of the top 10, an adjustment to lessen downforce brought Allmendinger's No. 2 to life. He took his first lead on Lap 98 with a side-drafting maneuver that wasn't unlike what he'd witnessed often the past six seasons during the draft-heavy restrictor-plate races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway in NASCAR's premier series.
After leading 14 circuits, Allmendinger had to make an unscheduled green-flag stop on Lap 112 for a loose seat belt and dropped to 25th as the second car a lap down.
But a relatively clean race (there were no multicar crashes, and J.R. Hildebrand's wreck on the fourth lap was the only heavy contact) cycled Allmendinger back into the lead on Lap 137. He cycled out of the lead on a stop six laps later but reassumed first again on Lap 165 as the race remained green for a stretch of more than 100 laps.
He pitted again from the lead with 26 laps remaining and finished seventth.
Seeking to end his family's heartache at a track where his legendary grandfather won only once and his father never did, Marco Andretti also turned in an impressive performance. Capping a strong month in which he qualified third and often was the fastest Andretti Autosport car, the third-generation driver continued his best season yet in IndyCar, placing fourth.