Why Even Question Tony Kanaan’s Ability?

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With the Verizon IndyCar Series season winding down this weekend, the silly-season is expected to be in full-swing after the championship is decided this Sunday at Sonoma. Most rumors have been focused on Josef Newgarden, the Nashville native that everyone has penciled in somewhere. A month ago, I said that Newgarden will be staying at Ed Carpenter Racing. Now, I’m not so sure. But if he goes anywhere besides ECR, my bet is that it’ll be with Team Penske to drive the No.2 car currently driven by Juan Montoya.

But Newgarden’s ultimate destination for 2017 and beyond is the subject for another post on another day. His day will come. I want to focus my attention for the moment on someone who has won the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar championship and has been the subject of his own 2017 speculation – Tony Kanaan.

Last Friday, David Malsher of Motorsport.com published an article saying that Kanaan was all but confirmed to return for a fourth season in the No.10 car at Chip Ganassi Racing. If it isn’t confirmed, then it is still a rumor. Unfortunately. If Kanaan has the funding that reports indicate, why is there even a question about this?

Kanaan’s detractors will point out that he will turn forty-two well before the season starts next March. They will also tell you that he should give up his prime seat at Chip Ganassi Racing, in favor of a younger driver more deserving. Don’t believe them! Their flawed reasoning will be that he has won only one race, Fontana in 2014, since signing with Chip Ganassi near the end of the 2013 season – to drive the No.8 NTT Data car, while joining his good friend and former Andretti-Green teammate Dario Franchitti.

Unfortunately, fate had other plans. The two never drove together at Ganassi. Franchitti was seriously injured at the double-header at Houston in late 2013 and chose to retire after suffering the lingering effects of a concussion. Kanaan took over Franchitti’s No.10 Target car for 2014, while Ryan Briscoe was signed to drive the No.8 NTT Data car originally intended for Kanaan.

It was not an easy transition. Through the first eleven races of the 2014 season, Kanaan scored only one podium (a third at Belle Isle) and no other Top-Five finishes. His average finishing position through those eleven races was 11.0. After Pocono, he began to hit his stride. For the final seven races of 2014, Kanaan had five podium finishes, which included a second-place finish at Toronto and the win at Fontana to close out the season on a high note. His average finish in those final seven races was 6.57 – skewed mainly due to a twenty-first place finish at Mid-Ohio.

Detractors will also point to an inconsistent 2015 season that saw Kanaan score six Top-Five finishes, but also six finishes of thirteenth or worse, on his way to a lackluster eighth place in the final point standings – while his teammate, Scott Dixon, was winning the championship.

Tony Kanaan’s supporters, which I consider myself one of, will point to not only his long history of winning, but to his stellar 2016 season. Heading into Watkins Glen on Labor Day weekend, Kanaan was sitting third in points and coming off of a third place effort at Texas. He had a very fast car, but a right-rear suspension issue in the race relegated him to a nineteenth place finish and dropped him to sixth in the points.

Kanaan doesn’t drive like someone over-the-hill who is simply taking up a seat and simply turning laps, while trying to desperately hold on to the glory days (Darrell Waltrip comes to mind). It is still thrilling to watch Kanaan start a race at mid-pack and pass multiple cars before the first turn. That’s not the racing demeanor of someone just hanging on to a dwindling career.

Since I’m old myself, I’m always one to value age and experience over youthful exuberance. There is an old saying that there are old drivers and bold drivers, but there are no old, bold drivers. With Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves as examples – I’m not sure that rule applies. Both drivers will be forty-two by the time the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 rolls around next May, yet they have both had excellent seasons this year. Who would’ve thought that the two young kids from Brazil who ended up as the 1997 Indy Lights champion (Kanaan) and runner-up (Castroneves), would still be at the top of their game two decades later? Here, much younger versions of themselves are  seen with Firestone’s Joe Barbieri in 1997.

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Not only is Tony Kanaan still on top of his game, he is one of the most respected drivers in the paddock and one of the most popular with fans. In all the years I have been to the Indianapolis 500, it’s been a while since I’ve witnessed a win as popular as when Kanaan won in 2013. At the 100th Running last May, Kanaan got one of the loudest, if not the loudest, ovations during driver introductions. He is good with fans, sponsors and equipment. He may not always win, but he is extremely competitive and usually brings a car home in one piece.

Father Time takes its toll on everyone eventually. Most drivers don’t stay in the cockpit until the age of fifty-seven like AJ Foyt did (probably more than ten years too long). Most hang it up before they reach forty. But every now and then, we are treated to the rare drivers who continue to hone their skills well into their forties. We are currently looking at two of them in Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves. Helio’s place at Team Penske seems very secure for 2017. Tony Kanaan should be just as secure at Chip Ganassi Racing for next year. Let’s hope the unconfirmed rumors are correct.

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “Why Even Question Tony Kanaan’s Ability?”

  1. Say what you want about AJ Foyt, but he did win his fourth Indianapolis 500 when he was 42….

  2. Bruce Waine Says:

    Yes, indeed.

    Would be interesting to learn A J’s comments or Mario’s comments……………..

  3. I think TK has driven very well this season. he definitely has at least one more year left.

  4. TK is still very competitive. I believe he will have his same seat in 2017. I personally don’t know of any TK “detractors” and I am not about to look for them. I attribute whatever rumors are out there to the 24/7 news cycle. Likely the same folks who come up with “The 14 best ways to eat a hot dog” stuff each day.

  5. There are people out there questioning TK? For real? What, are those idiots ones who only look at finishes and don’t pay attention to context? Such as that suspension failure George noted?

    Some people have no idea how to evaluate anything.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    I think Kanaan’s “detractors” are mostly folks who are waiting for the post-split generation of drivers (particularly Newgarden and Hinchcliffe) to ascend to one of Penske or Ganassi’s championship-contending cars. Though they wind up doing it, I don’t think they intend to argue that Kanaan deserves to lose his seat so much as they intend to argue that Newgarden and Co. have earned such a seat. They want their favorites in a championship-caliber car, and with only 5-6 such cars in the series, they’ll search for reasons (age, perceived lack of performance) to justify moving guys like Kanaan, Castroneves, and Montoya out of their rides.

    I like TK well enough and have no issues with him racing the #10 as long as he and Chip are willing, but I would be lying if I said that I would not be curious to see what Newgarden, Rahal, Hinchcliffe, or Rossi would do in that car.

  7. I think the question over TK is whether or not the necessary funding will be in place for him. Even though Target won’t be back in 2017, you can be sure Scott Dixon isn’t leaving Ganassi. Chip also wants to resign Max Chilton; no question of funding there, just a matter of contractual detail. I don’t see Charlie Kimball going anywhere. I’ve heard absolutely nothing about him possibly being dropped by the Chipster. So Tony is on the bottom of the totem pole at Chip Ganassi Racing; even if he tops Dixon in the standings this year, there no guarantee he gets to stay in the 10 car. Remember, at 42 he is the oldest full time IndyCar driver. While Al Unser won the championship in 1985 at the age of 46, even he was dropped from Penske the following year.
    Optimistically, I’d say the chances of TK staying with Ganassi are about 15%.

  8. Racing Acid Says:

    Kanaan is the epitome of consistency. Never the outright fastest, but always there or thereabouts. Compare that to Juan Pablo Montoya, who made a rocket-like ascent from Formula 3000 to CART in his twenties, ripping his competitors to shreds. He then graduated to F1, where his attitude and weight problems caught up with him, taking a steady decline into NASCAR and now Indycar. Kanaan is a driver Chip can count on to deliver consistently and maintain team harmony amongst team mates. If Chip replaced him with a potential championship challenger such as Newgarden, Rahal or Hinchcliffe, the team will suffer divided loyalties and Chip might see Scott Dixon leave and go to… Penske.

  9. hey George. not a huge fan of tonys but I respect his record and his abilty to be fast and run up front and still have a chance to win.

  10. Oh the detractors exist for both of these guys. Indystar just had an article calling Helio the bridesmaid of his generation. No series title, so what? 3 baby Borgs and the longest tenured Penske driver ever doesn’t seem bridesmaid worthy to me. As for TK, unless funding the 10 car is an issue, and it could be, Chip would be nuts to let him go. Guy can still flat out race.

  11. I believe TK impressed everybody by being in the championship hunt until the penultimate race this season. My guess is that result should have convinced Chip Ganassi it would be best to hire him again for next year.

  12. Tony still has the drive and focus to be a winner. I would hate to see him without a ride in 2017.

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