Kanaan set to become IndyCar's most durable driver
By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
BALTIMORE (AP) Just outside Camden Yards, Tony Kanaan will zip past the park on the bumpy city streets of the baseball city with more speed than the average fastball and into the IndyCar Series record book.
Fitting, that the home of the Iron Bird is again the site of history, this time for open wheel's new Iron Man.
The Streak again lives large in Baltimore.
And there might even be one more victory lap.
Kanaan's milestone won't be celebrated Sunday with 10-foot high numbers on a warehouse beyond the right-field wall overlooking Camden to mark the moment. His start in the Grand Prix of Baltimore will be noted with a simple 212 decal on the back of his helmet.
Without much fuss, Kanaan, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, will set the IndyCar mark for consecutive starts, with 212. He'll pass his owner, Jimmy Vasser, for the record when he starts his engine at one of the most unconventional courses on the circuit.
"I didn't want to be beating one of my best friends in life and nowadays my boss, Jimmy," Kanaan said. "But I guess I get to brag about that. I guess I can't brag as much until I get to Sunday's race because Jimmy has the power not to let me start this race if he wants to."
Not a chance. He's the Iron Man.
Kanaan has gripped the wheel with different teams and broken bones en route to becoming the most durable driver in the series. He'll set the mark in the same city where Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. made history in 1995 with 2,131 consecutive games played. Ripken voluntarily ended the streak ended at 2,632, the standard in baseball for longevity.
Ripken declined an invitation to attend the race because of a personal commitment.
Kanaan will start 16th in the No. 11 Chevrolet for Vasser's KV Racing team, and should hit about 115 mph by the time the course curves its way toward the home of the Orioles.
"I think we have a car that can fight for the top 10," Kanaan said.
After sitting out a race because of a concussion, Kanaan's streak began June 24, 2001 at Portland when he drove in the open wheel CART Series. He started the final 14 races in 2001 and every one since over the last 12 seasons.
Much like Ripken, Kaanan never let the day-to-day aches or injuries keep him from the lineup.
He broke his left arm in a 2003 race and missed a week of Indianapolis 500 practice. But he competed and finished third.
He broke ribs in the 2009 Indianapolis 500 but was behind the wheel the next week in Milwaukee.
"I was hurting. I had two broken ribs. I actually could barely walk to the car," Kanaan said. "That was the closest I got not to race. The one that I shouldn't have raced actually."
But he stayed behind the wheel, just as he did when he burned his hands and face in a pit road accident in 2009, and again this season when he drove with three torn ligaments in his right thumb.
Who needs a disabled list?
He's survived it all to win 16 times in open wheel, 15 with IndyCar. Kanaan, 11th in the points standings, won the 2004 series championship and finally put away the past heartache at Indy to win his first 500.
Kanaan ended 12 years of frustration when he won in May at the Brickyard, thousands of fans screaming, "TK! TK! TK!" on that long, final lap.
"I know I have the ring and they're going to put my face on the trophy," he said. "Those things are obviously cool, but the memories are what's going to last. That's probably the best one."
Vasser's streak started with the final race of the 1993 season and stretched to the 2006 season opener.
If any driver had to knock him out of his place in history, he's glad it's Kanaan. Kanaan and Vasser have been friends since they competed against each other in the late 90s.
"There's nobody else better," Vasser said. "I think it's a pretty cool thing. And we're doing it in Baltimore where the real Iron Man, Cal Ripken, really built the house. It's all pretty cool."
It's also all in the numbers.
Turns out, Kanaan and Vasser believe there's something to the 1 and 2 at the end of the 212.
Vasser's number was 12 and his wine goes by V12 Vineyards. Kanaan qualified 12th in his 12th Indianapolis 500 this year and had pit box No. 12. And the streak was methodically built over 12 seasons.
"He's the right guy," Vasser said.
He could still be Vasser's guy for next season.
The popular Brazilian's contract is up at season's end. Coming off the 500 victory, Kanaan wants a raise and major corporate sponsorship appears to have dried up. His best option at this point seems to be returning to KV Racing. Vasser, and partner Kevin Kalkhoven, would like to reach a deal before the series shifts next month to Houston.
"We're working on it," Kanaan said. "Right now we have all the same intentions. We all agree that we want to move forward, but we have to lock everything down."
Updated August 31, 2013