HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Tony Kanaan has endured plenty of hardship during his lifetime.
Maybe that's why the 33-year-old Brazilian was able to remain upbeat and philosophical after losing what looked like a certain victory in Saturday night's Gainsco Auto Insurance 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Kanaan's chance of winning the 2008 IndyCar Series opener got crumpled along with the right-front suspension of his Andretti Green Racing Dallara-Honda when he hit the spinning car of rookie Ernesto Viso on the 192nd of 200 laps.
Prior to the race, there was a lot of talk about whether the new IndyCar drivers with little or no oval racing experience would mess things up for the veterans. It finally happened with fewer than 10 laps to go.
"It was feeling great until he spun and I hit him," Kanaan said. "It's a shame. The 7-11 guys did a great job. To win you must be lucky and we were unlucky. I feel lucky to have great guys that did a great job for me. But it wasn't my day."
In the first half of the race, TK was a bit of an afterthought. He ran between third and fifth as Marco Andretti led 85 laps and attention was focused on Dan Wheldon's back-to-front charge. Then Kanaan passed both Ganassi Racing entries driven by Wheldon and eventual race winner Scott Dixon in the space of two laps to spring from third to first on the 161st lap. Once in front, he started pulling away.
"I was waiting," Kanaan said with a grin. "People think I was struggling back there. Obviously at one point Marco got a big lead but I was waiting for the last stop. I knew I had the car.
"I guess I'm getting old because I kind of used Rick Mears tactics. I didn't show everything I had, although I knew they were going to work on their cars until the end. When it was time to go, I went."
Kanaan retained the lead through the final round of green-flag pit stops. Although Dixon said he might have had something for the 7-11 car, Kanaan looked like he was going to cruise to an easy victory until disaster struck in Turn 4.
Viso, a 23-year-old Venezuelan in his first-ever oval race, lost control and his car slid backwards up the track toward the wall.
Kanaan looked low and high, but he couldn't sneak past and his right-front corner clipped Viso's out-of-control HVM Racing entry.
"When somebody spins and he's doing 230 miles an hour, you're like, 'Where should I go?' " Kanaan said. "I slowed down, he was on the bottom, so I went to the top. Then, all of a sudden he started to go to the top and I was trying to go to the bottom, so there was nothing I could do about it."
Although his car's right front suspension was significantly deranged, Kanaan continued in the lead behind the Honda Accord pace car. That brought an angry reaction from several competing teams, who complained to chief steward Brian Barnhart that the Andretti Green Racing car should be black-flagged for repairs.
Barnhart allowed Kanaan to lead for the Lap 197 restart, but he completed one slow lap and retired to the pits. Due to the high attrition in the race, he was classified eighth.
"Obviously I didn't want it to restart, but I knew Brian would hate to finish a race like that [under yellow], Kanaan said. "It's not fair to the fans. I knew I was done."
Despite the late incident, the new IndyCar drivers generally got a passing grade.
This was a misfortune -- yes. But, how many times have I won races because some other guy was unlucky? I've been on top. With 10 laps to go I was looking around and I was thinking, 'This looks too easy.' It happens.
-- Tony Kanaan
"You could tell these were good, solid professional drivers out there," Wheldon said. "They're going to be tough before this season is over."
And despite his disappointment, Kanaan was all smiles after the race -- at least publicly.
"I've been around a long time and you get used to losing, although you hate it," he said. "The race is not finished until the checkered flag. This was a misfortune -- yes. But, how many times have I won races because some other guy was unlucky? I've been on top. With 10 laps to go I was looking around and I was thinking, 'This looks too easy.'
If anything, Saturday night's race demonstrated that Kanaan will be a strong contender for this year's IndyCar Series title. Even more encouraging to him was the way Andretti looked like he is ready to step up and give Andretti Green Racing a second horse in the championship battle.
"It's a good start," Kanaan said. "What we did today, we've got to keep doing. We can't lose momentum and we can't lose faith. The battle is still wide open."
He broke into a huge grin and added: "One good thing is this is the same exact place I finished [at Homestead] back in 2004. And you guys remember what I did in 2004 ..."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.