Kanaan to make 300th start tomorrow

Tony Kanaan will make his 300th career start in tomorrow's Indianapolis 500

Tomorrow's 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 will add another chapter to the rich history of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. It will also the 300th career start for driver of the #10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Tony Kanaan.

After edging out Helio Castro-Neves (as he was then known) for the 1997 Indy Lights championship, the Brazilian moved up to then-CART FedEx Championship Series in 1998 with Tasman Racing. Making his debut in the Marlboro Grand Prix Presented by Toyota at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 15, 1998, Kanaan started 18th, before finishing 29th and last after a lap 32 accident.

His first podium finish would follow later that season with a third-place finish at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Joining 'TK' on the podium that day would be Bryan Herta, who was celebrating his first career, and Alex Zanardi. Kanaan would finish his rookie season ranked ninth in the final standings, edging out Castroneves for CART Rookie of the Year honors.

Kanaan's first win would come the next season in the U.S. 500 at Michigan International Speedway. After Max Papis ran out of fuel a few hundred yards from the finish line, Kanaan moved to the lead and would hold off a charging Juan Pablo Montoya by 0.032 seconds.

Tony Kanaan in his trademark #11 7-11 Honda en route to victory at Michigan in 2007

For the 2003 season, Kanaan joined Andretti Green Racing and moved CART to the Indy Racing League. Kanaan's tenure at AGR (later Andretti Autosport) from 2003-2010, when he drove the #11 7-11 Honda. Joining Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta, Kanaan would help form a very formidable driver lineup at Andretti. He would earn his second career win in just his second start for AGR at Phoenix, before a career-best season in 2004.

In 16 races that year, Kanaan won 3 races and scored an astonishing 11 podium finishes Kanaan would win that year's IRL championship in dominant fashion, edging out Wheldon by 85 points.

2004 would also be a harbinger of something that would come to define Kanaan's career for a number of years: the near miss at Indianapolis. The Brazilian finished second to Buddy Rice that year in the rain-shortened 500.

Kanaan battles Marco Andretti in the 2013 Indy 500

That breakthrough Indy win would come nine years later when Kanaan was driving for KV Racing Technology. After an epic four-car duel in the closing laps, Kanaan emerged ahead of Carlos Munoz, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Marco Andretti all driving for his former team to take the win. As you might imagine, Kanaan's Indy win is the one he cherishes the most.

"The 2013 Indianapolis 500 is the all-time best. Even if I win again, I don't think we can beat the whole story of 2013. Everything from the beginning of the month until the win, there were so many special things. You can't script that. To do it again this year, that would be a new story – 300th start, Indy I win again. Obviously, it would be really cool, but I'm extremely humbled already just to be at 300."

Kanaan joins the Ganassi victory celebration at this year's Rolex 24

While he may be humbled, there don't seem to be any signs of slowing down for the notoriously fitness-conscious Kanaan who turned 40 in December. Of course, he switched from KVRT to Ganassi before the 2014 season, and has score one win and visited the podium 7 times already in 23 starts with the team. Kanaan was also part of the winning Ganassi driver lineup this past January in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

In total, Kanaan has earned 17 wins, 14 pole positions, and a total of 72 podium finishes in a career that spans 18 seasons. Interestingly, his 38 third-place finishes are the most in IndyCar history. And when he takes the green flag tomorrow, Kanaan will become only the sixth driver in the history of American Championship Racing to reach the 300-race milestone. Only A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Al Unser, Jr., and Kanaan's former boss Michael Andretti.

Yes, we already know Kanaan will add a notable milestone to an already impressive milestone tomorrow. Can he add even more?

Brian Carroccio is a senior motorsports columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.

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