For the most part Tony Kanaan fought through a tough weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, but then rose to the occasion when it counted most on Sunday and drove to a sixth-place finish, taking a huge stride back toward the top of the Indy Racing League point standings in the process.

The Andretti-Green Racing driver started 14th in the 21-car field for Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 and was hoping to improve his track position immediately. However, when a tire pressure sensor warned Kanaan of a problem on the parade laps, he headed for the pit lane to change tires and was forced to drop to the rear of the lineup. But, it took the 28-year old Brazilian just five laps to return to the 14th position and just 20 more laps to find his way to seventh. By lap 40, Kanaan had caught the lead pack and then moved into the top-five just two laps later - a position he would occupy for the majority of the rest of the day.

Kanaan then overcame a pair of challenges on pit road - one stall and one miscommunication on pit strategy - that dropped him back to the 10th position. However, neither issue seemed to faze him as he drove back to the fifth position before the halfway point of the 200-lap race. From there, it was a matter of sizing up the other contenders - two of which came in the form of Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta, his other two Andretti Green Racing teammates.

Kanaan battled among the top-five the rest of the way, and despite being hurt by an ill-timed caution midway through a cycle of pit stops on lap 187, came home with his 11th top-10 finish in 14 starts.

"My job is to pass cars and I did that a bunch today," said Kanaan, who was pleased with his day's work. "It was a long day. Everything happened to us today. Passing is good for me and I don't mind increasing my driving skills. It was a pretty good day, so I can't complain. I just tried to be smart and take advantage of what people were doing and it paid off - not as good as I expected, but it was a good result.

"Most people took care of each other out there today. There were a couple of crazy guys and people getting excited. And, that is what happened. They are all professional race car drivers, but I think when you put your helmet on and you get tense -- that is how you make mistakes and you do crazy things."

Sam Hornish, Jr. claimed his second win in the past three events over Scott Dixon and Herta in the third-closest finish in IndyCar Series history. Wheldon finished fourth and was followed by Tomas Scheckter.

Kanaan, who entered the day 32 points behind leader Helio Castroneves, remains third in the championship standings after Sunday's race, but moved to within 14 points of the top spot (439-425). Dixon is now second, just two points ahead of Kanaan, while Gil de Ferran sits fourth, another three points removed.

"We had a pretty tough weekend, but we were always confident that we had a pretty good race car," added AGR president Kim Green. "Our excitement started out right on the parade laps when we had either a tire pressure sensor start to fail or we had a puncture, so we took the lesser risk and pitted on a parade lap. That put us in the back and we drove to the front. Our first pit stop, we stalled it, which put us back. The second pit stop, I made a mistake on communication with the guys and they didn't all understand that we were not changing tires - a couple of them started to change tires. With all that, it's obvious that we had to work hard to get to the front and we were able to do it most of the time. Certainly, the last yellow came out at an unfortunate time for us. Otherwise, I think we were as strong as anybody.

"I'm just very proud of all the effort put in by everybody. It was a lot of hard work on a very tough race track, but obviously a very exciting race. We gained a little bit in the championship and we've got two very, very important tests coming up prior to the last two events, but that is what we have to do to give ourselves a chance."

The IndyCar Series moves next to California Speedway in Fontana, California, for the 15th race of the 16-race 2003 season in two weeks time.

 

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