INDIANAPOLIS — Tony Kanaan will run only five of the 17 races during the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season. That’s not exactly how he had hoped this would be, but funding fell short and here we were Thursday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at an announcement that the upcoming season would be Kanaan’s last in an expanded role.
While Kanaan is open to racing again in the future, he just won’t go for a second series title. Kanaan, could be bitter that this is how the end goes. I mean, he’s a highly decorated driver. He won the 2004 championship. He’s won the 2013 Indianapolis 500. That was one of 17 career victories. No one has made as many consecutive starts (317) in the history of the sport and only one driver (Mario Andretti) has made as many career Indy Car starts (407) than Kanaan’s 377.
So, while funding fell through for AJ Foyt Racing in 2020, why couldn’t someone give Kanaan a full time seat, in his final season, without him having to bring funding? Hasn’t he proven enough? Kanaan says that it’s natural to have those thoughts but he’s choosing to remain humble and focus on what he’s accomplished and not feel sorry for himself.
“There are various ways to approach this, right?” Kanaan said on Thursday morning. “I can be the selfish guy and the vain guy. I asked that question to the close people, to Benny, to Lauren. Am I too vain thinking I deserve a full-time for my last season? What is the purpose of it? Then you’ve got to look back and be grateful that it’s 20 plus years. Come on. You can’t just — how many people lasted this long, that’s in as good a shape as I am and able to do it. Then you go, you know what, it’s not going to happen. The team losing the sponsorship — we were close, but like everything in racing, we were running out of time. Mark (Miles) and I had countless conversations to try to figure out together. Everybody put a lot of effort in.
“But it gets to a point that he needs to do his job, and his job is not only helping me, it’s helping Penske Corporation to grow everything, with Jay (Frye), with everybody. So I’m like, I didn’t feel that I was entitled to say, you know what, I need everybody’s attention because I need to do one last season because that’s what I want.
“I mean, how many things in my life that I wanted that I didn’t get. To be honest, in my career, I got everything I wanted. I wanted to win a championship, and I wanted to win the Indy 500. What else am I going to ask?
“So it wasn’t that hard when you think that way. Is it going to be sad? I don’t want people to be sad, because I’m still being selfish and being truthful. Sometimes I might be glad I’m not in the race car. You never know, you’re having a bad week, and you can talk to any driver, and they’re like, well, maybe I would love to be home now. And I won’t be home; I’ll be doing other things.”
Kanaan, said that his fitness levels are better than now ever before. He could easily race another decade, but if he does, he’s keeping a seat away from someone younger who could just as easily deserve it.
That has given Kanaan a new perspective of this and one that energizes him. He’s ready to give back to the series that has given so much to him.
“I think it’s time,’ the popular Brazilian said of his decision. “I think you’ve got to look — there’s always the up-comers. This series has been extremely competitive, and I think in the last decade, we, the old guys, are still dominating, that you still see Dixon, Power, people that are upper 30s, almost 40s, some of us, Sato. And we’re still delivering. And when you hang on to that, then you’re not giving a chance for the new generation to come up. That’s great for us, but I don’t think it’s good for the sport, either. Like I got my chance; why — I’m not saying I’m giving people a chance, but in a way, yes, you’re trying to open up a seat for a new talent to come up and build the series.
“When I started racing, all I wanted to do was race, win, beat everybody. I wouldn’t talk to my teammates like before I came here. They were my first rivals, and that was it. That’s all that matters. And growing up, I wanted to be an IndyCar driver and I wanted to win the Indy 500. I wanted to do this. And that was being extremely selfish.
“As you get older, I don’t know if you get softer or wiser, whatever you want to call it, and you start thinking about what else can I do to give back to the sport, what this place — I mean, this place made me. There is no question about it. It’s not a cliché. I’m not saying that because it is.
“You know that. I think the people in this room know that. And if anybody goes around this town with me, it’s mindboggling — it’s like, OK. All right.
“So to me, it’s like you get to a point that you say, you know what, let’s try to get this new guy. Who is it going to be? Is it going to be Pato (O’Ward), is it going to be whoever that guy is. The same thing if people asked Steve Horne back then, who is this Brazilian guy who can barely speak English. Actually, there were two. Maybe you guys know who the other one was.
“And then you go to a different role. I think my mindset is I’m extremely happy with what I’ve accomplished in my life. Now maybe it’s time instead of thinking about winning all the time, it’s like, how can I give it back? how can I inspire this kid, that actually, yes, you can race 20 years. If you wake up at 4:30 in the morning to do your first workout and then you do your other chores and you just be committed that 100 percent of what you want to do is to be a race car driver, it’s possible. I’m actually the perfect example of that. I had no money, my parents did not have money to do it, and it happened.
“This will be actually something that inspires me to make that decision and say, you know what, how about — you’ve heard the role, instead of trying to beat everybody, now let’s try to inspire other people and make it happen.”