Tony Kanaan's wife isn't going to make as much money at the Indianapolis 500 this year. Last year – unbeknownst to her husband – she bet $500 dollars on her husband at 13/1. Despite a lackluster KV Racing Technology car, Kanaan walked away with a bottle of milk and she walked away with $6000. The odds will look different this year as the returning champ steps into a bright red powerhouse as a member of the Chip Ganassi Racing team, the ultimate Brickyard powerhouse.
"It's about being in a position to win," says Kanaan, who should know after 12 starts at Indy. "I'd always been in a position to win, I just hadn't. The track picks the winner. I call it a she and she will make her choice. It's racing, there is only so much you can do."
That said, Kanaan is doing everything in his power to prepare for the race. That means spending a lot of time on television (he's the champ after all), encouraging and leading his pit team, and studying his competition, particularly Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, and Carlos Munoz, all of whom have shown an ability to win on the oval. He's not going to run away with it – the Indy series is so competitive that rarely happens – but Kanaan is still feeling pretty comfortable.
"I landed the best ride in racing," he says. "When Chip calls you, it's not really an option. You join the team."
Kanaan says he's particularly happy this year because his team is cohesive and eager. Ganassi employees get bonuses regardless of which driver wins – Scott Dixon has as good a shot as anyone – and internecine competition is kept to a minimum. Instead, Kanaan says the focus is on making sure the car is ready to race and race again. His job, simply put, is to give the best performance possible on race day and he's so serious about it that he's bringing his own audience.
Kanaan has purchased 250 seats for the race. He wants to share his triumphant return with the friends and family – his wife's local – who supported him when he was standing outside the winner's circle. He's a popular, outgoing driver, but prone to introspection. "I wondered if it was because they felt sorry for me because I never won," he says of the ovation he received last year. Probably not, but it is easy to cheer an underdog.
Tony Kanaan isn't an underdog anymore. Now that he's got nothing to prove and a literal target on his back, he's the guy to beat.