Tony Kanaan loves you right back

"For me it was a long time coming. I'd tried for so many years and had so many disappointments."

Reminded that he has made a lot of people happy here for a long time as the most colorful, comical and genuinely warm figure on the grid on an annual basis -- and that 2013 just gave them all a reason to celebrate -- he lowered his eyes and said, with a humble sort of satisfaction, "You got a good point."

Which leads us to two other points: First his chances of repeating, and then the fact that the man who has made "TK" the most beloved initials here, other than "AJ," just can't stay serious for long.

He'll start 16th, but, "I started 12th last year ... so it's really like one row behind. So I don't think it's a big deal."

And he pointed out that Dario Franchitti, the close friend he replaced on the Target-Ganassi team after Franchitti suffered career-ending injuries last fall, started 16th in 2012, and won.

Regarding the absence of three-time Indy winner Franchitti from this field, Kanaan said, "We'll miss him. But I won't take it as a sad day. Because for what I saw when I first got to the hospital after his accident, I'm so glad that he's 100 percent that to me, that overcomes anything.

"So we'll try to make him proud. I'm driving his car, so hopefully we'll put that in Victory Lane for him."

The Vegas oddsmakers don't see it.

"I saw the odds today that somebody had put me at 16 to 1. I like that. I told all my friends to bet on me because we're gonna win a lot of money."

But here's his worst nightmare -- rather, here goes TK's tongue deep into his cheek again.

It's a what-if, first raised by his 6-year-old son, Leonardo.

"It would be funny, or interesting, to see when we get to [pre-race] drivers' intro again, to see if all these people are gonna cheer for me. Or whether they just felt sorry for me for 12 years. Now that they're happy that I won, are they gonna move to somebody else? That has not been the feeling that I've got so far ... "

But, Leonardo's notion "actually haunted me for a couple of nights. You're getting ready ... and drivers' intro ... and the place is quiet when they say my name.

"Which is completely the opposite of what I'm used to."

Even Vegas oddsmakers, who just aren't particularly good on motor racing, would rate the chances of silence for TK on Sunday at zero. Nil.

Because Tony Kanaan is such a genuinely happy person, all the time, even in his most disappointing moments, he is more than a fan favorite, more than their racing hero, more than their war hero.

He is a walking, talking lesson in how to live life.

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