MADISON, Ill.— “Today was an emotional day for me,” said Tony Kanaan after registering his best finish of the season at World Wide Technology Raceway where he posted his best finish last season. It was also the first track to host fans following last week’s Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan finished ninth in Race 1 of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 his penultimate race of 2020, a season in which he ran only the oval tracks in the NTT INDYCAR Series.

Starting 21st in the No. 14 Big Machine Vodka Chevrolet, Kanaan vaulted into the top-10 when a timely caution at the start played into the team’s alternate pit strategy. However, that call was possible because Kanaan avoided the carnage as the field came down for the green.

Six cars were involved in that dustup including Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud, triggered by rookie Oliver Askew punting Pagenaud into Rossi. Veterans Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti were also involved as was rookie Alex Palou.

Kanaan, and teammate Charlie Kimball, who started 18th in the No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet, both pitted during that early caution, were running 13th and 14th by lap 20 of the 200-lap race. 

The 14 crew was on their game with pitstops today.

The turning point for both cars was the caution on lap 108 for the sprinkle of rain drops. They hadn’t pitted yet so they were running seventh and eighth when the yellow came out, which put them a lap ahead of seven cars who had pitted earlier.

Track position was very important because it is so much more difficult to pass due to the increased turbulence generated by the addition of the aeroscreen this year.

During the pit stop cycles, Kanaan pitted from second place on lap 163 while Kimball jumped into second place, which he held for nine laps until he pitted on lap 172. Kanaan dropped to ninth, and Kimball to 13th when the pit stops cycled out.

The 4 crew was strong on pit stops all race long.

Meanwhile the battle up front was heating up. Takuma Sato led for 14 laps before pitting on lap 175 which gave the lead to Scott Dixon who held on to win his 50th despite a hard-charging Sato who eventually placed second. Rounding out the top five were Pato O’Ward, who had led for 94 laps, Colton Herta and Marcus Ericsson.

Kanaan discusses the race with his race engineer Mike Colliver.

Kanaan, whose best finish this season previous to today was 10th at the season opener in Texas, said, “Very good result for us. Best result for the team this year. Obviously this place, I had a podium here last year. We have one more tomorrow. Awesome, awesome result. The guys had good pitstops. Thanks to Big Machine Vodka for the help and nice to see some fans in the stands too. Emotional day for me — one more day, so I’ll see if I can sleep tonight. Good day for us.”

 Kimball chats with Larry Foyt and race engineer Mike Pawlowski post race.

 Kimball, who finished 13th in the No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet for his second-best finish at this track, said, “I feel pretty good about the race for the No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet. Went off strategy early, it paid off with the yellow for the little bit of rain, got some track position and was able to hold that track position. On that last stop, the 14 and the 4, we kind of split strategies so it felt really good to see them come in the top 10. We didn’t quite get the top 10 that was there but had the yellow fallen right, we’d have had a really good result. Great strategy, great pitstops all day long. We’ll figure out how to make the car better overnight and do it again tomorrow.”

The second race of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 will be broadcast on NBCSN tomorrow starting at 3 p.m. ET.