By Justin Whitaker
SPEEDWAY — While the record-setting 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 ended under caution, every spectator in the front stretch grandstands stood as the checkered flag waved because a fan favorite was finally getting his due.
Tony Kanaan crossed the yard of bricks to a chorus of cheers, claps and jubilation from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway crowd that understood the moment.
After leading nine different Indianapolis 500’s that left Kanaan with only five Top 5 finishes and 225 laps led to show, the Brazilian finally won the World’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing in his 12th attempt.
“This place, I’ve always said it, it’s been special to me and I meant that when I said that. I didn’t have to win here,” Kanaan said. “The fans, they actually spoiled me a little bit on my win. When I finished 11th here, starting dead last, I got out of the car and it was exactly the same.
“I all ready had felt a little bit. I hadn’t drank the milk, kissed the bricks, but it means a lot to me, because so many people, I feel they wanted me to win.”
Kanaan dedicated the win to the fans for cheering him on after so many close opportunities to win at the historic 2.5-mile oval.
“It’s such a selfish thing to do because what are they getting from it… I’m the one that gets the trophy,” Kanaan said of the fans. “I said it before the race, I believed that this win was more for people out there than for me.”
A Dario Franchitti wreck in Turn 1 after a restart on Lap 198 brought out the race-ending caution. Kanaan nervously started checking the vitals of the No. 11 Hydroxycut KV Racing Technology-SH Racing Chevrolet as he crept along under yellow as the leader hoping his previous bad luck did not strike again.
“I started to check everything in my car,” Kanaan said, who led 34 laps. “Do we have enough fuel, have four wheels? You kind of go crazy. The pace car guy, whoever was on the side, this guy is actually celebrating. I’m like, ‘Go, can you go quicker? It’s going to be a long lap if you keep doing that.’ “
The race-ending wreck was one of very few times that drivers and fans could catch their breath during the fastest Indianapolis 500 in history. The average speed of the race was 187.433 mph, beating out the previous record of 185.981 set in 1990 by Arie Luyendyk.
Also adding to the record books was an incredible 68 lead changes, doubling the previous record set in 2012 of 34. Passes for lead nearly happened every three laps.
“It was a chess game,” Kanaan said. “It’s funny enough because I don’t know how to play chess.”
A record 14 different drivers led the race, including seven who led 12 laps or more.
Rookie Carlos Munoz finished second and was joined by Andretti Autosport teammate and defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay in third.
Munoz, who started second and is the Indy Lights points leader, is the likely Rookie of the Year for his performance.
“The car was awesome from the first lap to the last lap,” Munoz said. “I have to be proud of me and no shame of nothing, to be rookie, to be second. I think I did a great race.”
The restart with three laps to go was setup after a Graham Rahal wreck exiting Turn 2 on Lap 194. Hunter-Reay was the leader with Kanaan and Munoz directly behind.
With so many changing at the head of the field, the lead car was never safe.
“When you’re up front leading, especially on a restart, you might as well be driving a bulldozer,” Hunter-Reay said. “Everybody come on by.
“I’m actually happy we got third. I figured with that restart, being first, we would have been shuffled back to fourth or so.”
Kanaan dove below Hunter-Reay right at the start/finish line, a maneuver that put his face on the illustrious Borg-Warner trophy.
“I knew I had to get the lead on the restart because it could be a yellow, which happened to me plenty of times here and it did,” Kanaan said. “How life is funny. The yellow was my best friend.”
Hunter-Reay led 26 laps and was a consistent car near the top of the grid from start to finish. The driver of the No. 1 DHL Andretti Autosport Chevrolet led 13 different times.
“I had a blast in the car,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s almost nerve-wracking when the car is that good.”
Fourth place finisher Marco Andretti led a race-high 15 different times for 31 laps and is now the series points leader by 11 points over Takuma Sato.
The traditionally fast Target Chip Ganassi team struggled throughout the day and never contended. Three-time 500 winner and last year’s defending winner Franchitti finished 23rd after his wreck. 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon finished 14th. The other two Ganassi cars, Charlie Kimball and Ryan Briscoe, finished ninth and 12th respectively.
“I was kind of at the back of it (pack of lead lap cars) most of the time,” Dixon said. “Just problems after problems really.”
Pole sitter Ed Carpenter led a race-high 37 laps and finished 10th. The Indianapolis native was up front through the first half of the race before falling back through the race.
“We had a good car,” Carpenter said. “It was a tough race. It was so competitive. If you make one little mistake, then you would get shuffled back. We were a little conservative early and didn’t have the right amount of downforce compared to some guys and that did us in the end.”
Chevrolet was the superior of the two engine manufactures on Sunday. The bowtie was well represented at the front with the top four cars all Chevy powered machines. Chevrolet had seven cars in the top ten. Honda’s top finishing driver was Justin Wilson in fifth place.
Other records broken Sunday include 133 consecutive green flag laps, the longest green-flag period in 500 history since caution-flag laps were recorded in 1976. The 21 caution-flag laps are the fewest in an Indianapolis 500 that went the full distance.