Archive for Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Racing fans watch for this year’s Indy winner

June 28, 2006

A year ago when the Indy Racing League made its early-July trip to Kansas Speedway, the talk was all about Danica Patrick. Patrick had been coming off her historic run to fourth place in the Indy 500 just weeks earlier. As she qualified in the pole position, expectations were she had a great chance to make more history with a first-place at Kansas Speedway.

Instead, Patrick finished ninth, which is exactly where she was ranked the weekend before this year's Indy race at the Speedway, set for Sunday. But, while Patrick is still ranked in the league's top 10, the fanfare surrounding her has died down. Her journey to a championship has dragged out longer than most casual fans or members of the mainstream sports media were willing to endure.

In the interim, other stories have emerged, perhaps chief among them the exploits of rookie star Marco Andretti. Andretti, who just turned 19 in March, came out of nowhere to take a strong second place at Indianapolis this year. He's become the latest Andretti to add the legend of what is one of the biggest names in racing. He's the son of Indianapolis veteran and current team owner Michael Andretti, and the grandson of the racing legend Mario Andretti.

Marco, who's currently 12th in the points standings, earned nearly $700,000 for his second place Indy finish and, with so much career still ahead of him, may yet finish as the most famous Andretti. He even beat out his father this year, who took third at Indianapolis.

The youngest Andretti's strong finish took some of the attention away from Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish, Jr., but you're not likely to hear Hornish complain, as he earned nearly $1.75 million for his win. Hornish will likely be one of the strongest competitors in this weekend's Kansas Lottery Indy 300. Hornish is ranked fourth and has qualified in the pole position for three races already this year.

But Hornish and the rest of the field might be chasing Tony Kanaan, another racer on the Andretti Green team this weekend. Kanaan is best known as a Reese's candy spokesman for the commercial in which he's walking city streets with an open jar of caramel, a scenario that could only make sense in the strange lands of "Ad World." But the Brazilian is much more than just a light-hearted pitchman. He was the winner at the Speedway last year and is fifth in the point standings.

Kanaan was also one of the less appreciative drivers when it came to the media frenzy surrounding Patrick last year. Perhaps tired of answering questions all weekend about his female counterpart, Kanaan fired a final shot at the media after his victory.

"You guys that want to see Danica win: sorry, you'll have to wait until next time," Kanaan said.

Everyone is still waiting and now, if Kanaan wins this weekend, he'll be unlikely to even mention Patrick.

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