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.”

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