INDIANAPOLIS Nine years ago, during a visit to Indianapolis, Tony Kanaan went to see a young girl in a hospital. She was comatose after a stroke and was scheduled to have an operation the next day. Kanaan gave her mother a necklace, a gift from his mother, for good luck.
The girl lived. By chance, four days ago, she returned the necklace to Kanaan.
"She thought she had enough luck," he said. "She wanted to give it back to me."
Sunday, fortune indeed smiled on Kanaan at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He won his first Indianapolis 500 in 12 attempts, prevailing in a wild finish filled with caution flags and a last-gasp pass.
The race was up for grabs with three laps to go when Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was leading, went three wide with Kanaan and rookie Carlos Munoz into the first turn off a restart. Kanaan darted to the lead and then cruised to victory under a caution flag after Dario Franchitti crashed moments later. Munoz placed second and Hunter-Reay third.
"You can't predict yellow, but I said I'm going for the lead," Kanaan said. "I didn't want to be in the lead, because I knew I would get caught on the restart. I was in the perfect place, exactly where I wanted to be."
Kanaan made his move on the restart only after another caution that interrupted his battle with Hunter-Reay and Munoz.
On the 194th lap, Graham Rahal brought out the yellow flag when he hit the wall. There was only one partial lap of green-flag racing the rest of the way, but it was enough for Kanaan.
"With three laps, I thought we could have mounted another challenge," Hunter-Reay said. Of the second late caution, he added, "I didn't think it would happen that soon, that's for sure."
For Kanaan, who celebrated in Victory Lane chugging and dousing himself with the traditional bottle of milk, the win was an exclamation point on an illustrious career and a measure of redemption after many close calls at the Brickyard.
The 38-year-old Brazilian's résumé now includes 15 IndyCar victories and a series championship in 2004. But at Indianapolis, he had led in every race the last nine years only to come up short. In 2007, he led for 83 laps before two caution flags and bad weather derailed him.
"I wanted this all my life," Kanaan said. "But over the years, I was kind of OK with the fact that I may never have the chance to win it.
"I was looking in the stands, and it was unbelievable. I'm speechless. This is it. I made it."
The race was wide-open and thrilling from the beginning. Sixty-eight lead changes shattered the previous record of 34, set last year. The number of leaders, 14, set another mark, with nearly half of the field having led at one point. After the 112th lap, no one led for more than six consecutive laps.
At one point, there were 133 consecutive green-flag laps, the most since race officials began tracking the statistic in 1976. Kanaan also set an Indy 500 record with an average speed of 187.433 mph.
Franchitti, the defending champion, started 17th but had trouble with his car and was never a threat, although he played a major role in the outcome.
"Our car was never really good all day," Franchitti said. "I went into the first corner on the last restart, and it just didn't turn and then the hit."
He added, "When I saw who was leading, it cheered me up a little bit. Great, just phenomenal that Tony won."
Kanaan's face will be the 100th chiseled into the side of the Borg-Warner Trophy, the most coveted prize in IndyCar.
"Finally," he said, "I'm going to put my ugly face on that trophy."