NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tony Kanaan and Sam Hornish Jr. signed autographs Thursday, separated by two small, round tables. No pushing, no shoving, nobody knocked to the ground.
No apologies, either.
Kanaan didn’t bring any of the boxing gloves or whistles sent to him by friends since Sunday’s tussle with Hornish and his father at Watkins Glen, which landed both drivers fines and probation for the rest of this year from the Indy Racing League.
Sam Hornish Sr., who pushed Kanaan as the Brazilian driver approached his son, is barred from the pits at Saturday night’s Firestone Indy 200 at Nashville Superspeedway.
Both drivers insist no grudges will be carried into the race. But they still don’t sound like best buddies either, unable to agree on exactly who was to blame.
The Indy Racing League couldn’t be happier with all the extra publicity after watching what Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick’s tangle in Milwaukee earlier this year did for the IndyCar series. Track officials are even promoting this race as Kanaan-Hornish, Round 2.
Scott Dixon, who won here last year and whose third straight victory at Watkins Glen was overshadowed by the fight, understands the focus on the fight.
“As I was told when I was young … ‘All media is good media,’ and I think everybody’s well aware of that, to be honest,” he said.
The IRL does well when visiting the Nashville Superspeedway, with fans attracted by drivers reaching speeds of 200 mph on the 1.33-mile oval, the only concrete they race on besides road courses.
Track officials started promoting the new story line for this race immediately after everyone was separated on pit road at Watkins Glen. General manager Cliff Hawks said they would have been crazy not to tap into the drama.
“The one thing the NFL and NBA have that maybe motorsports doesn’t necessarily have is that exposure to the players on the field. … You can’t see all that going on in the car with the helmets. When you see that competitive spirit among drivers, fans are drawn to that. They can relate to it, and it also pulls in the more casual fan,” Hawks said.
League officials punished everyone involved Tuesday.
But anyone who missed the fight only had to click onto the league’s Web site Wednesday to see the video, and Kanaan’s promise to apologize was headlined “Contrite Kanaan.”
Patrick, who made sure to point out her own father was unfairly blamed for being involved when he wasn’t, said she has no problem now with Wheldon. She doesn’t see focusing on the latest fight as bad for the series.
“We need to make our drivers in the series celebrities in and of themselves. I think that will really help escalate the sport and get it out there and spread it over the mainstream,” she said.
Kanaan, who won the 2004 series title, said he can understand the publicity even if he’s not sure this is the right way to provide controversy.
“Definitely, Sam’s not very welcome in Brazil right now I have to say, and I don’t think I’m very welcome in Ohio,” Kanaan said.
The Brazilian said he will apologize to make himself feel better. That’s not the apology Hornish wants, not after Team Penske spent two hours fixing the left front suspension he insists was caused by Kanaan as he swerved around Hornish’s car with all cars heading into the pits at the end of the race.
“It’s over as far as I’m concerned as soon as he admits he did hit the car and did damage my car,” Hornish said. “He has not taken credit for that yet. That’s the only thing that still looms in my mind.”
Want to talk about damaged carsâ¢ Kanaan still isn’t happy about the damage caused to the left side of his car by contact with Hornish during the race, and he doesn’t believe he hit Hornish at the end.
“If he wants to apologize for the damage that he made on my car during the race, I might apologize. I had to race with a damaged car for 30 laps. He only had to put his car in the truck … ” Kanaan said.
Maybe that probation is a good thing since both drivers know they will be watched — carefully — Saturday night.