Tony Kanaan set for IndyCar season debut after putting off farewell for fans

Associated Press

Fort Worth, Texas — What was supposed to be a farewell season for Tony Kanaan instead turned into a disappointing tour of nearly empty race tracks.

Then he was offered another opportunity to extend his IndyCar career, this time in front of fans. His first two races are scheduled for this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Tony Kanaan's supposed farewell tour last year fizzled amid nearly empty tracks.

“That was actually one of the reasons I decided not to go away, not to retire, because it was so sad,” Kanaan said. “I would have never thought I’d be in a race like the Indianapolis 500 and not have a single person sitting in the grandstands. But we need the fans, the sport needs the fans to survive, and I am excited to race in front of fans.”

Kanaan’s second chance came courtesy of seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who moved to IndyCar this year but only wanted to race the road and street circuits. That left four open ovals in the No. 48 at Chip Ganassi Racing and Kanaan was the perfect driver for the job.

He drove four seasons at Ganassi from 2014-17 with much of the same personnel he’ll be working with on the No. 48 car when he races Saturday and Sunday.

Kanaan, who has a two-year deal with the team, tested with Ganassi at Indy earlier this month, but the team skipped the Texas test because it’s confident in its package for the Fort Worth track. Scott Dixon led 157 of the 200 laps last year for a Ganassi win in what was the IndyCar season-opening race.

Kanaan scored a pair of runner-up finishes and a third at Texas as a Ganassi driver and was 10th last season for A.J. Foyt Racing.

Although he’s not raced in the IndyCar Series since August, and Kanaan was supposed to be retired already, team owner Chip Ganassi said he doesn’t view this reunion as the chance to give the 46-year-old Brazilian a proper sendoff.

“When it comes to TK it’s about performance, it’s about winning,” Ganassi said. “We want to be in a position to win with him in a car.”

Texas marks the third consecutive week of racing for the IndyCar Series — and a doubleheader, no less — and the first stop on an oval. It comes after last week’s race on the street course in St. Petersburg, Florida, in high humidity that drained drivers who aren’t yet at top race fitness.

Kanaan isn’t exactly fresh. He raced a stock car in Brazil last weekend, then flew back to the United States to race in Texas. But where he separates himself is in preparation, he said, and he will be ready for 690 miles of racing over two nights at Texas.

“Some people say I’m a workout freak, but it’s all about how you prepare,” Kanaan said. “Some of the drivers said how hot it was last week and that’s why over the winter, every day I went to the gym, I did an hour inside of the sauna at 150 degrees. That’s preparation. I like to say I’m a little bit better prepared.”