Indy 500 champ Kanaan sixth in first race with Ganassi camp

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A promising Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg appeared to be on tap for Target Chip Ganassi Racing newcomer Tony Kanaan after he qualified on the outside front row.

Instead, things got very difficult almost from the beginning for the Indianapolis 500 champion, when he suffered a potentially disastrous mishap in the cockpit of his No. 10 Target Chevrolet.

“Right at the fourth lap of the race, we went into a [fuel] mixture to lean the engine out and save some fuel – but the knob fell off,” Kanaan explained to ESPN. “I raced the entire race with a lot less power, so it was quite hard to keep up.”

Nonetheless, Kanaan was able to soldier on and pick up a sixth-place finish in his first race for the defending Verizon IndyCar Series champions. He also noted the big picture, with driver’s champ and new teammate Scott Dixon finishing in fourth.

“It was one of those things. It happens. But a Top-6 is not a bad start,” he said. “Both Target cars [finished] in the Top-6, and that’s great for the championship. It’s going to be a tight one, so we need to take any points that we can get.”

The lack of power appeared to show early on after Kanaan lost second on the opening lap to Ryan Hunter-Reay (who would eventually finish there behind winner Will Power). He ceded third to Power on Lap 12, then lost fourth to Helio Castroneves on Lap 18 before making his first stop on Lap 27.

When that green flag cycle ended, Kanaan would shake out in sixth position. He would stay there for much of his second stint but then fall back to seventh after another wave of green stops.

However, his pit crew would do him a solid by getting him the lost spot back on pit road during the race’s first caution (Lap 76-81). Kanaan stayed sixth for the remainder of the race, setting his fastest lap of the day on Lap 95 despite his fuel troubles.

“For all the problems that we had during the day, it was a great result,” Kanaan said. “When you have a bad day and you have problems and you finish sixth, it’s pretty good.”

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.