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Tony Kannan considered an Indy 500 contender even from last on grid

Tony Kanaan, right, listens as Dan Wheldon, a St. Petersburg resident and the 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner, talks about the track. Kanaan started in the first two rows in each of his first eight Indy 500s.

Associated Press

Tony Kanaan, right, listens as Dan Wheldon, a St. Petersburg resident and the 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner, talks about the track. Kanaan started in the first two rows in each of his first eight Indy 500s.

INDIANAPOLIS — There is a powerful driver pulling up the rear at this year's Indianapolis 500, throwing out the notion that the 33rd spot means no chance at winning.

Not when the guy driving that last-place car is Tony Kanaan.

"Now he's even more of a threat," said fellow Brazilian Helio Castroneves, the defending champion going for his fourth Indy 500 win. "Timing is everything, and Tony is an incredible driver. I'm not the only one who thinks this. Everyone knows how good he is and the car he has. You can never count him out."

Kanaan never has tasted the cold bottle of milk in the winner's circle at the famed Brickyard, but he has led seven of his eight starts here for a total of 214 laps out front, 25th all-time in the 500.

Last weekend he crashed two cars in less than 24 hours during qualifying, and his Andretti Autosport team was forced to piece together another ride. Kanaan eventually put up a qualifying time 30 minutes before the deadline and watched it hold up.

He qualified 32nd but will start 33rd. Dead last. No driver has won the 500 from that position. Scott Goodyear (1992) and Tom Sneva (1980) finished second after starting 33rd.

"As I go through the field, it's going to get tougher," Kanaan, 35, said Thursday.

"They might be impressed if we're back to 15th by the fifth or sixth lap. But you don't go from 33rd to first in 30 or 40 laps. People relate that the car starting last is the worst. That's not the case here. We'll be moving through the field, but then you have to decide how you're going to race."

Kanaan compared the experience to his early days of living in Miami.

"One day I'm home and it's a day like this," he said Sunday, "and they say a hurricane was coming the next day. I said, 'This is America. The people are crazy. There's no way.' And the next day was so nasty I couldn't believe it. That's what happened to me. It was beautiful days all week. We had a good car."

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar series champion, was part of a bad qualifying weekend for Michael Andretti's team. Marco Andretti, son of Michael and grandson of 1969 Indy winner Mario, will lead the team's quartet of cars by starting 16th.

Ryan Hunter-Reay will start alongside, in 17th. Danica Patrick hated the setup of her car so much in qualifying that she was booed by the crowd after she blamed her poor time on her crew's handling of the car.

Still, she will start 23rd — 10 spots ahead of her teammate.

Nobody has won the 500 from further back than the 28th starting spot. Since 1937, Johnny Rutherford is the only driver to win after starting worse than 21st. He started 25th in 1974.

But this year, the time gap between Mario Moraes, who starts 13th, and Kanaan during four-lap qualifying was a slender 0.5834 seconds.

And perhaps this year's low expectations will change his luck. Kanaan has led more laps of any active nonwinner at Indianapolis but crashed out of the past two Indy 500s.

"Look, I'll do whatever I can," he said. "If I can pass 10 cars on the first lap, I'll do it. If I can't, I won't do anything crazy. This is a 500-mile race, so you have to be patient."

Tony Kannan considered an Indy 500 contender even from last on grid 05/28/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 28, 2010 10:07pm]

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