DETROIT – Tony Kanaan was doubly lucky, Danica Patrick had her best finish and the IndyCar Series is headed for a wild finale after Sunday’s Detroit Indy Grand Prix. Kanaan stayed on the track during a late series of pit stops and remained ahead of a last-lap melee to claim his series-best sixth victory of the season and 12th of his career.
The Brazilian, who has won three of the last four series races, kept his championship hopes alive heading into next Sunday’s series finale at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
“It was a weird race,” Kanaan said. “The yellow came out at the right time, so it was good to stay in the front.”
The crash, which started when Buddy Rice ran out of fuel with seconds to go, collected series points leader Scott Dixon and Kanaan’s Andretti Green Racing teammate, Dario Franchitti.
AGR co-owner Michael Andretti told a TV crew he thought Dixon intentionally collected Franchitti, a charge the Scot dismissed.
“How would that be intentional?” Dixon said. “If I’d have kept going I would’ve picked up five points on the guy.
“I had no control of the car. It was spun out.”
Rice took responsibility for the crash after the race and Franchitti didn’t seem to think Dixon was trying to keep him from getting ahead.
“Some people think it was intentional,” the Indianapolis 500 champion said. “Scott has raced me clean all year and I have raced him cleanly.”
Despite the crash, which dropped Franchitti from fourth to sixth, he ended the day three points ahead of Dixon. Kanaan, 39 points behind his teammate, remains mathematically alive in the championship hunt.
Dixon, who won Aug. 26 at Sonoma, Calif., and had the points lead after a dominant Franchitti collied with Marco Andretti, was eighth. This is the second consecutive year and third time in series history that the points lead has changed hands with both two and one race left on the schedule.
Kanaan chose to stay on the track while most of the field pitted after a late-race caution and was in front when IndyCar officials declared the race would be a timed event. Officials set the time limit of the race at 2 hours, 10 minutes or 90 laps and informed crews at the race’s 2-hour mark that the timing rules were in place.
The race ended a lap short of the scheduled 90 and the final-lap crash came seconds before the scheduled end. It was the first time a race was ended by the clock since June 4, 2006, in Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Kanaan said his crew assured him he would make it.
“They gave me a number and I was making better fuel mileage than they asked me,” he said. “I trust my guys and I knew I had the fuel to make it.”
Pole-winner Helio Castroneves and Tomas Scheckter struck the turn 1 wall on lap 67 to bring out a full-course yellow and bunch the field.
Franchitti, who assumed the lead after Castroneves’ pit stop on lap 25, led Kanaan for most of the middle stretch of the race, but lost the lead during a lap-49 stop.
The first yellow flag came on lap 27 when Ed Carpenter stalled near turn eight.
Patrick, Vitor Meira, Sam Hornish and Sarah Fisher tangled during a lap-31 incident that knocked the latter three cars out of the race. Hornish was hit by Fisher and appeared to injure his wrist.
His hand was covered with an ice bag after he got out of the damaged car.
Scott Sharp, who ran into Darren Manning early in the race, struck Patrick and hit a turn-eight tire barrier on lap 47 to bring out a third caution. Carpenter stalled again on lap 55 to bring out a brief yellow.
Patrick stayed on the track and led briefly before a round of stops dropped her back into the middle of the pack. She was far behind the lead quartet when Rice, Dixon and Franchitti crashed and got past the wreckage to claim the second spot.
“Sometimes you think you’re in and sometimes you think you’re out of it, and that’s how it was today,” Patrick said.
“To be able to take home a second when it looked like a fifth – it just justifies all those moments when you say, ‘Why me?”’
Castroneves, who won the last two races held here before the event took a six-year hiatus, led the first 25 laps but pitted five laps after most of the field. He ended the day 12th with his fifth DNF of the season.
He had words with Scheckter as he made his way back to his trailer from the course medical center.
The track was shortened since the last time the series ran here and widened in areas to allow more passing – a gripe of fans and teams. Despite the alterations, the only lead changes came in the pit area.
“It was so difficult to pass, you just wait for the guy in front of you to pit,” Franchitti said.
Organizers announced before the race that the event would return to Detroit next season Aug. 29-31.