Kanaan talks decision to come back to Indy for 2023 and if this one will be his last

Tony Kanaan has no regrets about a premature retirement announcement in 2020. See, at the time, he felt like that would be it in terms of his NTT INDYCAR Series career. One last season in his book. They’d dub it “TK’s Last Lap.” The joke now has become, how long is this lap?

“I always said, you want to retire, you don’t want somebody to retire you,” he said from INDYCAR content days on Wednesday morning.

“But after 25 years in the series I don’t think I could be — I have the right to be upset if I don’t find a ride if I want to race next year. It’s been a great ride.

“Honestly, it’s the hardest — you see it. You see it in every sport. Not many times top guys retiring came back, because you don’t know how to let it go. Then you have examples like me and Helio who are 48 and Dixon who’s in his 40s and still, I want to come back, I know I can do this.

“But I’m really, really — I was at peace with myself three years ago when I made that decision, so now I’m just riding it because, hey, I’m a race car driver. Going to give me a race car to drive, I’m jumping in.

“But no, it won’t — I won’t be sad if this would be my last one.”

Kanaan will return in 2023 for his third “final” lap. However, this one, like the previous three before it, will be on a part-time basis. The laps are getting shorter one could say.

2020 was a season he’d race just the ovals. Then the pandemic set in and Kanaan didn’t want to go out like that. He felt he owed it to his long time fans to come back one more year so they can see him out. That next season however led him back to a journey of just ovals but to do so with Jimmie Johnson and at Chip Ganassi Racing.

Johnson had no interest in racing on ovals and in order for him to make this work, he needed a partner to take over the reigns for him on the high speed tracks. Kanaan was a perfect fit. The thing is, Johnson had a multi-year deal so it meant Kanaan had a couple more final laps.

But, with Johnson wanting to race ovals in 2022, where did this leave Kanaan?

Tony Kanaan tests at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

It left him in a fifth Indy only entry for Ganassi. He’d finish third last May. The fire never left him. An emotional Kanaan felt like he had more left in the tank for at least one more run at it.

“I left it all out there,” he’d say after last year’s race. “I said it, I wanted to do it one more. Right now it’s wide open. I have one year to try to figure that out. But, yeah, I mean, even if I say next year will be the next one, you’re going to ask me that question. I might call it quits, but I still might want to come back.

“I was very emotional on the cool-down lap, talking to the team. I know my days are numbered. I have a plan, like I said. I think next year will be probably, if I can make it happen, will be really the last one.

“I don’t feel like I’m retiring. I mean, I know I can still drive. Of course, we have this thing that people like to talk about, age and age and age.

“But I think I’m in pretty good shape. I’ll keep doing it as long as the opportunity presents. Obviously to come back here, especially in the last two years with the team that I’m at, if it’s not there, I’m going to evaluate my chances. I don’t want to just be here to participate. I’ve done that plenty of times.

“So if I have one more shot, and that is for real, one more shot, we’ll give it a go. As of right now, this was the last one.”

It ended up not being his last. Kanaan returns this year but once again, for Indy only. He’ll do so in papaya with Arrow McLaren.

“To win the 500. Very simple,” Kanaan said on what Zak Brown asked him to do when he hired the popular Brazilian driver.

“Always racing is so — you’re as good as your last result. When you start coming up to my age, which is 48, by the way, people ask you that question. People doubt you. People say, maybe is it time, all those questions.

“The only way to reassure even yourself, because I’m not going to say that you don’t question yourself, is it time or am I still up to — and then you have a result like we did last year and it’s like, wow, you know what, come on, I know I can do it.

“That weighs a lot, also, in a lot of my decisions going forward.

I” know anything can happen in the 500, but as long as I have it in my head that I am competitive, it doesn’t matter if I finish third or if I could add one, but if I think I still have the possibility to win, I will keep trying.

“But also I need other people to see that, sponsors and — let’s face it, I’m not going to get a ride if there is one seat that is going to be a one-off. I’m not coming back to do a full season again anyway.”

However, we already know Kyle Larson is coming into this seat in 2024, so is this year’s run going to now be it?

“That’s a good question because Dixon makes fun of me until this day. This is the last, last, last, last lap, the very last lap, what it is,” said Kanaan. “So the answer honestly will be I think I will definitely make a decision, which is not just all up to me.

“I mean, it’s up to me if I say this is it, but if not, I think I’ll make the decision when we cross the start-finish line on that Sunday. When I win, if I win, I’ll put everybody on the spot and I’ll say, I’m coming back. This is exactly what happened last year.

“Right now I think the focus is this 500. Again, I don’t know if — it wasn’t a mistake, but we announced something two years ago and then a great opportunity came with Jimmie’s — I’m not going to put out there this is what I’m doing. It’s just, let it be.”

Kanaan said that while he doesn’t necessarily want this to be it, he won’t do it just to do it. If he’s going to race in the Indy 500, it has to be a legitimate opportunity.

“Let me put it this way: You are totally right, and no disrespect for any teams because I think we have a pretty good group of teams that can win the 500. But at this point, if I don’t think it’s the right opportunity for me then I wouldn’t do it. I don’t want to be at the 500 just to participate,” he said.

“Actually even last year that was part of my decision when I said, I want to come back this year.

“Yeah, I mean, winning, it’s all. I would rather see a young gun coming in, taking place for his first Indy 500, than me just participating just to add a car.”

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