INDIANAPOLIS -- Tony Kanaan had one more lap, one anticlimactic last lap under the yellow caution flag, to end 12 years of frustration in the Indianapolis 500.
He flipped up his visor to wipe away tears as the crowd roared its approval, and then in Victory Lane gave his bride of two months a kiss and poured the celebratory winner's milk over his head.
Kanaan is Indy's hard-luck loser no more. He is its champion at last, fittingly with a dose of good luck for a change.
"I have to say, the last lap was the longest lap of my life," he said.
It was one of Indy's most popular victories.
Dario Franchitti, whose crash brought out the race-ending caution, stood grinning by his crumpled car, two
"When I saw who was leading, it cheered me up a little bit," said Franchitti, last year's winner. "He's a very, very deserving winner."
The fans thought so, too, screaming "TK! TK! TK!" as he and team owner Jimmy Vasser went by during the traditional victory lap. It felt magical to Kanaan, like he had given the crowd at Indianapolis Motor Speedway a gift.
"It means a lot to me because so many people, I could feel that they wanted me to win, and it's such a selfish thing to do because what are they getting from it?" Kanaan said. "I'm the one who gets the trophy. I believed that this win was more for people out there than for me.
"I wanted it all my life, but over the years I was kind of OK with the fact that I may never have the chance to win."
His chance came at the end of a history-making race at the famed 21/2-mile Brickyard, where Kanaan knew he had to pounce at the green flag for the final restart with three laps to go. He did, zipping inside leader Ryan Hunter-Reay to roar to the lead -- where he wanted to be in case another caution came out.
"I knew I had to get the lead on the restart because it could be a yellow, which happened to me plenty of times here, and it did," Kanaan said. "How funny is life? The yellow was my best friend."
Kanaan had his fair share of chances to win at Indy but came up short time and time again.
"It's wonderful for him," said Mario Andretti, himself a victim of bad luck at Indy. "He's raced here long enough that he deserves it, no question."
The win for Kanaan and Vasser was celebrated throughout the paddock. Alex Zanardi, who came from Italy to watch the race and gave Kanaan one of his 2012 London Paralympics medals as good luck, wept behind the pit wall as Kanaan took the checkered flag.
"I tell you I'm starting to think (the medal) really works," said Zanardi, who lost his legs in a 2001 crash in Germany. "It's a dream come true to see Tony win, to see Jimmy Vasser win, my dear friend. I'm so happy, I'm so happy."
It was Vasser who brought Zanardi's medal to Kanaan before the race, telling his driver that Zanardi wanted him to rub it for good luck.
"I actually cuddled with the thing," Kanaan admitted.
Bay Area native Vasser, caught in the middle as a driver during the political fighting in open-wheel racing, only got the chance to run Indy eight times and not during his prime.
"I never won it as a driver, so I had to hire the right guy to do it, get a baby Borg on my shelf," said Vasser, referring to the winner's Borg-Warner trophy.
Carlos Munoz, a 21-year-old in his first IndyCar start, finished second and Hunter-Reay was third.
"T.K. is such a fan favorite, absolutely, it's great to see him win it. If anybody is going to win it in the field, he's one of the few I'd like to see other than myself," Hunter-Reay said. "We were leading on that last restart, I knew I was a sitting duck"
Franchitti brought out the caution seconds after Kanaan passed Hunter-Reay for the last of 68 lead changes -- exactly double last year's record.
On the final lap, the leaders came to the finish line all bunched up around Kanaan, saluting the IndyCar stalwart. That was about as slow as anyone had driven all day. The average speed was 187.433 mph, another Indy record.
"It was a hell of a race," Mario Andretti said. "It's unbelievable racing, the best I've seen in years."
Kevin Harvick wins the Coca-Cola 600, a race that has 10 spectators injured. PAGE 3