- Associated Press - Saturday, May 26, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Tony Kanaan has been called just about every name in the book.

Fan favorite, pole-sitter, race-day favorite, race leader, even the last starter on the grid.

For Kanaan, the past decade of Indianapolis has been filled with close calls, bad luck and frustration.

But he keeps coming back to this 2.5-mile oval because he loves the race and its fans, and he figures eventually, the racing spirits might show some empathy for him, too.

“I don’t think I’ve had a bad memory here,” he says with that confident smile and playful chuckle. “I’ve just got to think things happen for a reason.”

Whatever the reason, Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar champ, has been the king of hard knocks at Indy.

_ In 2004, he was leading until a pit stop on lap 133, then ran second until Buddy Rice passed him on lap 150. Thirty laps later, a storm sent Rice to Victory Lane and Kanaan to a post-race news conference as the runner-up.

_ In 2007, he was leading on lap 113 when the rain came. After a lengthy wait in which it appeared Kanaan may finally have had his coveted Indy win, the race restarted, and Kanaan stayed in front until he ceded the lead during a pit stop on lap 157. Nine laps later, another storm moved through, ending the race. Kanaan finished 12th.

_ In 2008, Scott Dixon passed Kanaan for the lead on lap 106. A few moments later, teammate Marco Andretti went to the inside to make another pass of Kanaan. All Kanaan could do was go high, scraping the outside wall and forcing him to turn into the path of Sarah Fisher. Both cars were knocked out of the race. Afterward, Kanaan complained that every time he leads the race, something happens.

_ In 2009, a broken suspension sent the Brazilian into Indy’s concrete wall. The hit was so hard he bounced off, slammed into the wall again at more than 180 mph and was still limping when he showed up for the Milwaukee race a week later.

If there’s one person at Gasoline Alley who understands Kanaan’s plight, it’s Michael Andretti, his former team owner.

“We’ve talked about it a lot,” Andretti said Friday. “He’s probably one of the best drivers at this track without a win under his belt. I know how he feels, and he knows how I feel, and he knows he’s running out of chances, too.”

Andretti led the most laps of any non-500 winner (431). Kanaan has led more laps at Indy (214) than any non-winner still active in the series.

So perhaps this will be the year fate intervenes.

For the first time since 2009, Kanaan qualified in the front three rows. He’ll start eighth, the middle of Row 3, a stark contrast from two years ago when he started from the final position in the 33-car field after using pieces from two crashed cars and Ryan Hunter-Ready’s No. 28 car just to qualify for the race..

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