It’s All In The Numbers
With all of the talk of Dario Franchitti’s retirement, new qualifying procedures for next year’s Indianapolis 500 and new radio and TV voices for the IndyCar series next season, there is one little tidbit that has flown under the radar that I think needs mentioning. That is that unless Tony Kanaan slides into Dario’s vacated No.10 Target ride, he will pilot the No.8 NTT Data Dallara for Chip Ganassi next season. Most of that is old news except for the car number – No.8.
I noticed that someone wrote into Curt Cavin’s Q&A asking about why not No.11. He brushed it off by saying that the sponsor ran that same number with Ryan Briscoe in the car at Indianapolis last May and that KVSH Racing (formerly KV Racing Technology) wanted to run the No.11 because that’s what they won the Indianapolis 500 with last season.
Something about that doesn’t smell right. I had seen Kanaan say on Twitter that he was hoping to have the No.11 available to him for his new ride at Ganassi. It would have made sense – Scott Dixon drives the No.9, Dario Franchitti was in the No.10, so it seemed only natural that Kanaan would drive his familiar No.11 since it maintains the sequence order. Of course, the same can be said for the No.8.
But Tony Kanaan has not been associated with the No.8 in his driving career – at least not at this level. He has driven cars with numbers 10, 11, 17, 21, 55 & 82 – but never No.8.
I went to the NTT Data website to see if there was anything to signify that they had any affinity to the No.8. I learned quite a bit about the company – especially how big they were, but I never saw anything to indicate that they were partial to the No.8; except that was their car number when Ryan Briscoe scored a twelfth place finish at this year’s Indianapolis 500.
Let’s be clear – the number that Tony Kanaan is most associated with is No.11. That was his number when he came over from CART and joined Andretti-Green Racing after driving three seasons for Mo Nunn. For the first four races of the 2003 season, there were two 7-Eleven entries. Michael Andretti drove the No.7 before stepping out of the car after the Indianapolis 500. Then Dan Wheldon would compete in the car as the No.26 Jim Beam entry. Wheldon and Andretti both drove at Indianapolis. Tony Kanaan was in the other 7-Eleven car. He would remain in the No.11 sponsored by 7-Eleven through the 2010 season.
For 2011, Kanaan moved to KV, driving a Lotus sponsored GEICO entry (with Honda power) that was in livery similar to Jim Clark’s 1965 winner that carried the No.82. To commemorate the only Lotus win at Indianapolis, Kanaan’s car carried the No.82. Davey Hamilton’s Dreyer & Reinbold entry for the Indianapolis 500 was adorned with No.11. For 2012, KV was able to reclaim the No.11 for Kanaan, which he gladly carried for the past two seasons.
For ten total seasons since 2003, fans have grown to associate Tony Kanaan with the No.11. When we looked at the scoring pylon, there was no question who the double ones represented. Among active drivers, only Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves have carried the same number for more seasons than Kanaan. There was equity in that number. We associated No.11 with Kanaan in the same way we associated No.14 with AJ Foyt. And now he will carry the No.8.
I have no way of knowing this, but I suspect that this wasn’t Chip Ganassi’s call nor was it NTT Data’s call. I also don’t believe that KVSH was suddenly sentimentally attached to the No.11 after winning the Indianapolis 500 this year. I’m normally not a conspiracy theorist, but I suspect this is a product of sour grapes for Tony Kanaan leaving KVSH. I’m not convinced that Kanaan’s departure from KVSH is on as harmonious as we are led to believe. Jimmy Vasser had worked hard to put together a sponsorship package to keep their star driver. But I think Kanaan had seen enough.
I’ve opined several times that Kevin Kalkhoven seemed to treat this team like a hobby. This is also a hobby for Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske. The problem is that while Penske and Ganassi run their hobbies as businesses, Kalkhoven runs his team like a hobby – almost like a club sport. How else could you explain the underwhelming results they have achieved over the years? I think Kanaan did himself a huge favor by getting out of the black hole that is KVSH and landing on a team like Ganassi for the remainder of his career.
Race car drivers are superstitious by nature. I fully believe that Tony Kanaan desperately wanted to take the No.11 with him to Ganassi and finish out his career in the number that fans identify with him. But I also believe that KVSH knew that they technically had the rights to that number, and decided there was no way in the world they were going to give it up and do Kanaan a favor in the process – not after perceiving that Kanaan had wronged them by signing with Ganassi. It was a power-play, much like DEI not allowing Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to take the No.8 with him to his new home at Hendrick Motorsports. And who now runs No.8 in NASCAR? No one.
So now, the No.11 will be linked with Sébastien Bourdais, who finally signed with KVSH after Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe spurned offers from them. If not for winning this year’s Indianapolis 500, KVSH would share the dubious distinction with Bourdais’ former employer, Dragon Racing, as being the only two teams in the paddock to never win an IndyCar race. I’m not sure that Bourdais improved his situation greatly by moving to Kanaan’s old seat. Some weekends, KV was so off the pace they weren’t even competitive. They are now mad at TK and figure the best way to punish him is to keep him from running No.11. This doesn’t sound like Jimmy Vasser. It sounds more like Kevin Kalkhoven.
I may be completely off base here. Perhaps Kanaan didn’t care one bit about the No.11, or this was all Chip Ganassi’s doings. But my gut tells me this is just KVSH Racing acting childish and petty, simply because they can. If my gut is correct – maybe they’ll reconsider and let TK run his familiar No.11, if he doesn’t end up in Dario’s seat, and do so before new merchandise is produced for next season. Let’s hope so.