Kanaan, Hornish compete for MIS attentionWritten by Dave Woolford | | email@example.com
It was love at first sight … sort of.
He liked her soft, gentle curves. She liked his chassis.
The year was 1999, when Indy Racing League sophomore Tony Kanaan captured his first IRL victory at Michigan International Speedway. Since then, Miss MIS and the Brazilian have had a few run-ins, so to speak. He didn’t finish any better than 16th in his next three races at MIS after his initial League triumph. He should have probably won in 2004, the year he captured the IndyCar Series championship. Kanaan led an amazing 183 of the total of 200 laps at MIS, but finished second to Buddy Rice.
And now Kanaan wants to rev up his relationship with Miss MIS on July 30 in the Firestone Indy 400, especially following his first victory of the season July 23 at Milwaukee.
“I stayed here last night on my bus, my motorhome, trying to be nice to the track and see if she can give me my first win of the season,” Kanaan said during a break in his test session last week. “You’ve got to respect her, that’s all I know about it. I was driving around the track just telling her to be nice to me.”
It’s possible Miss MIS might have other associations she would prefer to pursue.
There’s that delightful Defiance favorite son, Sam Hornish, Jr., who strengthened his IRL points lead with his second-place finish at Milwaukee July 23. The 27-year-old, two-time IRL champion is a hot commodity. He met with President Bush at the White House two weeks ago in celebration of his Indy 500 victory last May and is being honored by the city of Defiance July 26 with a “Sam Hornish Day” parade and other local tributes.
Only 16 points separated the top four drivers in the points chase going into Milwaukee with Hornish leading second-place Scott Dixon by just five points. The top four drivers are now separated by 32 points with Dixon falling 25 points behind Hornish following a 10th-place finish at Milwaukee. There are just four races remaining. Hornish could put a hammerlock on a third title with a good result at MIS.
“I can’t complain about a second. I had a good day while the others didn’t fare so well,” Hornish said at Milwaukee. “It looked pretty bad for a while when I went a lap down, but it turned out pretty good. I’ll try to get that next win at Michigan. I’ll have a lot of fans there.”
Marlboro Team Penske, with drivers Hornish and Helio Castroneves, along with Ganassi Racing drivers Dixon and Dan Wheldon, had accounted for every victory this season until Kanaan gave Andretti Green Racing its first triumph of 2006. The Andretti Green team, that also includes drivers Marco Andretti, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta, had captured 19 of the previous 33 IndyCar Series races (57.6 per cent) heading into this season.
“When we didn’t win this season people looked at it like, ‘What’s wrong?’ I think we did so well, when we won 10, 11 races every year, that when you don’t win, people go, ‘What’s wrong?’ ” Kanaan said. “I think other people step up their games and we kind of expected that that good moment was going to end one day.”
Miss MIS hasn’t given Hornish the cold shoulder. He has not finished worse than seventh in four starts. He is just one of two drivers — the other being Scott Sharp — to complete all 1,600 miles of IRL racing at Michigan. They are also the only two drivers who have finished in the top 10 in each of the four Michigan IRL races.
Miss MIS hasn’t seen young Marco Andretti, but she’s sure to be impressed. The 19-year-old rookie, son of team owner Michael Andretti, was passed by Hornish on the last lap to finish second by just six hundredths of a second in the second-closest finish in Indy 500 history last May.
The legendary A.J. Foyt made a mockery of the traditional starting command at Milwaukee July 23, yelling, “Boys and girls, start your engines!” Danica Patrick was the only “girl,” but there are rumors that Sarah Fisher might also climb into a car for the Firestone 400 at MIS.
Patrick, who is rumored to be leaving the Rahal Letterman Racing Team at the end of this season to join the Andretti Green Racing team, finished a career-high fourth at Milwaukee last Sunday. That was her second consecutive fourth-place finish.
Kanaan likes the idea of Patrick becoming a teammate.
“It would be nice to have someone like Marco and Danica on the team. You guys wouldn’t be here interviewing me for three hours. It’d be just Danica and Marco,” he said with a laugh. “If she wants to come play with us as a teammate, we’ll give her a hard time. We’re already planning some pranks if she comes.”
Miss MIS might not look too kindly on that, Tony.