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Kanaan has shot at Triple Crown

– Tony Kanaan holds IndyCar’s version of the golden ticket.

He’s driving for more than another win at Pocono Raceway; he’d move one victory closer to earning $1 million.

All Kanaan has to do is win at Pocono and Fontana to become the open-wheel series’ Triple Crown winner.

He won the first leg when he broke through for his first Indianapolis 500 victory in May. Oh, and he took home $2,353,500 for winning that.

Still, a million bucks for winning three races isn’t too shabby, either.

“A million dollars is always welcome, I have to say,” a laughing Kanaan said. “I’m really not thinking about the million dollars. I’m thinking, let’s go one at a time. If I win here, I’m getting closer, but it’s not guaranteed yet.”

No, Kanaan didn’t put his pinkie against his lips like Dr. Evil when talking about the potential $1 million payday. But he’s the only driver eligible for the Triple Crown title and the prize money that goes with the feat. So he may as well go ahead and win Sunday’s 400-mile race at Pocono.

“We’ll try and take the opportunity,” he said.

While $1 million doesn’t seem like much in a sports world where top athletes command $20 million in salary, IndyCar offers meager purses comparatively.

A driver who wins two of the three can win a $250,000 bonus from promotion sponsor Fuzzy’s Vodka.

IndyCar ran a Triple Crown at Indianapolis, Pocono and Ontario from 1971 to 1980, and from 1981 to1989 at Indy, Pocono and Michigan. Only Al Unser won all three races in a single season, in 1978.

“Winning them all was a great gift,” Unser said. “We thought we accomplished the world when we won all three.”

Unser won four 500-mile races in a row with an Ontario victory in 1977 and wins in 1978 at Indy, Pocono and Ontario. Unser drove for Parnelli Jones in 1977 and Jim Hall in 1978.

He’s rooting for Kanaan to match his feat, just like he pulled for him to, at long last, win at Indy.

“I think Tony’s a good racer,” Unser said. “I’m an old-timer, and I thought he was going to be another Lloyd Ruby and just keep racing and racing at Indy and never get to drink the milk or get his photo with the Borg-Warner trophy in Victory Lane.

“He knew the Speedway didn’t owe him anything like the announcers said it did. He won based on his talent, his racing skills and the team’s hard work.”

Kanaan, along with just about every series driver, is racing for the first time at Pocono. The track returned to the IndyCar Series schedule after a 24-year absence, and most drivers participated in just a few test sessions.

They’ll qualify today.

Kanaan, fifth in the points standings, may not win, but he’ll be there at the start. That’s one guarantee that few other series drivers can boast. Kanaan is set for his 207th consecutive open-wheel start Sunday, four shy of Jimmy Vasser’s record. Kanaan now drives for Vasser.

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