Phoenix: Kanaan's gamble pays off

Tony Kanaan won his first IRL IndyCar Series event at Phoenix today (Sunday) after a gamble on fuel strategy paid off when team-mate/team owner Michael Andretti collided with Team Penske's Gil de Ferran near the end

Phoenix: Kanaan's gamble pays off

Kanaan, touted as the favorite by many observers during the off-season, pulled away from Helio Castroneves on a two-lap sprint at the end of the race to win the Purex Dial Indy 200. It was Kanaan's first win in just his second IRL IndyCar Series race, and his first race at PIR.

It also was a duel between two longtime friends ad racing rivals. Kanaan and Castroneves have been racing together since their go-kart days in Brazil in the mid-1980s.

"We've battled back and forth for years, banging wheels and winning championships," Kanaan said. "I knew who I was dealing with. I used my experience knowing the guy. I played him a little bit. I let him think he could pass me. After that, I was gone."

Castroneves said he thought Kanaan may have jumped the final restart.

"I think we was starting a little too soon, in terms of the cones," Castroneves said. "But if nobody called it, I guess that means it was OK. ... I definitely believe it was a little too fast."

The two-lap shootout was set up by a wreck involving Gil de Ferran and Michael Andretti. Andretti, owner of Kanaan's car, watched his driver win from the infield care center.

"He saved the day for me," said Andretti, who will retire after the Indianapolis 500 in May. "The first thing I was doing was looking at the damage and thinking, 'This is going to cost a lot of money.' Tony ended up bringing home some good prize money to pay for it."

Kanaan led 79 of the 200 laps in the Andretti Green Racing Dallara-Honda. He was challenged only occasionally, mostly by Castroneves - who finished 0.9328 seconds behind - and Felipe Giaffone, who finished third and led 58 laps. Al Unser Jr. finished fourth, Kenny Brack fifth and Jaques Lazier sixth.

"The car was competitive all day," Kanaan said. "I got in a bit of a mess at the start. I thought we were still going to be yellow, so I lost a few positions. I kept myself calm. I knew I had a good car."

At one point, after Kanaan killed the engine in the pits, he came back and passed four cars in one lap, going from 11th to seventh in little more than 20 seconds.

"That was great," Kanaan said. "On the next yellow, I told the guys, 'I'm enjoying racing. Let me but myself behind again and I'll try to do that again.' It was just so much fun."

The win also put Kanaan into the IRL points lead after two races - nine points ahead of Castroneves and 24 points ahead of third-place Scott Dixon, who won the season opener in Homestead but suffered a gearbox failure early on.

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