Kanaan still soaking in first Indianapolis 500 victory

FORT WORTH, Texas – Rarely has anyone looked as happy without sleep as Tony Kanaan did Tuesday in Fort Worth.

Of course it helps that Kanaan is just two days removed from his first-ever victory at the Indianapolis 500, making it easy for Kanaan to get by on fumes in the whirlwind that followed his victory at the famed Brickyard.

He had no complaints Tuesday when he met with Texas Motor Speedway season-ticket holders at a Forth Worth restaurant.

“It was a very special win not just (because) it was because something I was always looking for,” said Kanaan, who had led 221 laps at Indy but never won before Sunday’s win in the No. 11 Hydroxycut Chevrolet. “And not just because it was the 500. The fans over the last few years have been supportive of me. It was just an amazing day.”

The support for the Brazilian never wavered despite several close calls at Indy that included five top-five finishes and a second-place finish in 2004, which was also the year he won his lone IndyCar Series championship.

Whether it was because he got to hold a lucky gold medal from former driver Alex Zanardi, raced with a necklace he gave a sick girl nine years ago or because his KV Racing Technology team finally put it all together, it was Kanaan who won under caution Sunday.

It marked the first time the Jimmy Vasser co-owned team had been to Victory Lane in the series, although Kanaan had a hard time believing it was actually happening even as the race finished under caution.

“A lot of things came through my mind,” he said. “First of all I started to freak out. I started to see my wheels falling off, running out of fuel. Knowing myself and the history of my career, this can’t be true. Nothing comes easy. This can’t be true. I’m going to run into the pace car. A bird’s going to crap on my helmet or something. When I got that out of the way, I couldn’t see straight because I started to cry.”

That led to the most surreal moment for Kanaan since the win.

“The victory lap when all the fans were still in the stands waiting for me to go by and wave at them,” Kanaan said. “That was an extremely special (moment) for me.”

Kanaan’s victory was followed by a busy couple of days. Following his stop in Fort Worth, Kanaan headed to New York to be a guest on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” He didn’t sleep Monday night because he was too busy celebrating and he didn’t want to miss anything.

The distractions that go along with winning at Indy are well worth it.

“I think I’ve seen more microphones and cameras than anything else in my life,” Kanaan said. “That’s a good problem to have. The little moments I had to rest I spoke to friends, caught up on emails and have been on social media interacting with my fans. It is a good problem to have but it’s been extremely busy.”

The fun for Kanaan ends after the trip to New York. While the victory was nice, he’s still seventh in the championship point standings. He’s had success in Detroit, where the series is this weekend, and TMS. The series comes to Fort Worth for the June 8 Firestone 550.

Kanaan hopes the Indy win and racing at tracks he likes can point him toward his second title.

“After tomorrow when we’re done with the media obligations it’s going to be race mode again,” he said. “The 500 – I’m going to have to turn the page and move forward. We still have a lot of races to go.”