Kanaan relieved just to be in Indy 500 field

Tony Kanaan sees no reason to be spiteful.

He’s in the Indianapolis 500, and for Kanaan, that’s more than
enough after a topsy-turvy few months that saw him twice on the
equivalent of auto racing’s unemployment line. And just because the
team that parted ways with him after 2010 – Andretti Autosport –
struggled mightily in qualifying for the biggest race on the
open-wheel calendar, Kanaan sees that as no reason for additional
celebration.

Andretti tried to get five cars into the 500 during qualifying.
Only three made it, while Kanaan grabbed the 23rd spot on the
starting grid for KV Racing Technology-Lotus.

”People think I was happy about that,” Kanaan said. ”That’s
not me. You don’t ever wish anybody bad. I have so many friends, so
many good people that I’m friends with on that team. It was sad to
see.”

A different outlook would probably be understandable.

His time with Andretti ended when 7-Eleven dropped the primary
sponsorship of his car. It’s a simple rule in racing: No sponsor,
no ride. Even a hugely popular driver such as Kanaan isn’t exempt
from that reality. So he had to find work elsewhere – first with
Dragon Racing, in a deal that ended before it started over a lack
of corporate backing, and then KV Racing, getting that pact done
just days before this IndyCar season opened.

Some might call it mildly curious that 7-Eleven now has a
presence again in the Andretti garage, but Kanaan insists he has no
hard feelings.

”You can’t say, `Oh, they fired Tony.’ The sponsor left,”
Kanaan said. ”And yeah, it’s weird that the sponsor came back now.
But I’m not there. I don’t know what the deal is. You’ve got to do
what you’ve got to do. If they decided to come back, it’s none of
my business. When the situation happened, I know for a fact that
the sponsorship was gone. I know for a fact that I couldn’t stay
there because of it.”

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar champion, is popular both with fans and
fellow drivers, and having him in the field after the uncertainty
of the last few months seems to be well-received all around.

”I happen to be very good friends with Tony,” said Oriol
Servia, who will start on the outside of Row 1. ”Of course I’m
happy he’s doing well. And he’s with KV Racing, a team I’ve driven
for three times. I’m very happy that he’s in the race, safe, and if
I know anything about Tony and that team, they will be challenging
for the win in the race. It’s always fun racing with the guys you
respect the most.”

Kanaan has been through a lot, for certain.

On May 3, Andretti Autosport announced that 7-Eleven would be
part of a group providing ”primary sponsorship backing” for Mike
Conway’s No. 27 car at the Indy 500. Conway was one of Andretti’s
primary cars to not get in the Indy field. Ryan Hunter-Reay also
failed to qualify for Andretti, though the team announced a deal
Monday where he will replace Bruno Junqueira and drive A.J. Foyt’s
No. 41 car in Sunday’s race.

Kanaan said he wanted to see Hunter-Reay – like him, a South
Florida resident – in the field. Last year, Hunter-Reay essentially
got Kanaan into the 500. Kanaan wrecked both his cars while trying
to qualify, and another car with borrowed parts was put together.
Kanaan wound up sneaking into the back row of the field.

”He’s a good friend of mine,” Kanaan said.

So, too, is Michael Andretti, the owner who doesn’t have him
anymore.

Kanaan acknowledged that at first, he was upset about not racing
for Andretti anymore, which surprises no one. He and Andretti sat
down when the sponsorship deal ended, and few words needed to be
said.

”I looked him eye-to-eye and realized it was a shame,” Kanaan
said. ”It was a loss for both of us. He wasn’t happy.”

Andretti wasn’t happy this past weekend, either.

The team’s cars struggled with speed throughout its qualifying
attempts, and neither Marco Andretti nor Danica Patrick was in the
field until Sunday. Only John Andretti qualified on Saturday.

Sunday ”was probably my worst day as an owner,” Michael
Andretti said.

On Monday, Tom Anderson, Andretti’s competition director, lost
his job. Meanwhile, Kanaan returned to Miami, smiling, relieved and
ready to return to Indy for a chance at winning his sport’s biggest
prize.

”I’m going to go for the win,” Kanaan said. ”I’m going to go
for my great starts and re-starts. The fans keep asking me for
that. A lot of people are extremely excited that I’m not starting
in the front. I’m not going to say we’re going to win, but after
these last 15 days and what happened with the field, I can say this
race is anybody’s race.”

Tim Reynolds on Twitter:
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