Tony Kanaan Can Still Drive

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This past weekend, we heard the news that many of us had long suspected when Tony Kanaan told Dave Furst, of the Advanced Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network, that he will be a free-agent for 2018. He also made it clear to Furst and everyone listening that he fully intends to drive in 2018 and that he is not washed up. Count me as one who agrees with Kanaan.

Being a lifelong Team Penske fan, I’ve never cared much for Chip Ganassi or his racing teams. Over time I’ve learned to appreciate how much they’ve accomplished over the last twenty years, but I was never a fan of Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) as a rule.

Due to his association with CGR, I was conditioned to not be a fan of Scott Dixon for several years. However, I learned about ten years ago that Dixon is as good of a person off of the track, as he is a driver on the track. Not only is he an extremely likable guy, he does a lot of charitable acts that he chooses to not have publicized. So I learned how to root for Dixon to succeed while not being bothered if CGR had a bad day.

When Tony Kanaan moved to CGR’s No.10 car, I was really in a pickle. Kanaan is one of my favorites of the current crop of drivers and is even in my Top-Ten of all-time favorite drivers. Pulling for him driving under the Ganassi banner was hard to do, but my allegiance to a driver overrides how I feel for a team. So I will preface this by admitting to be more than a little biased. Plus, I’m getting a little long in the tooth myself and I tend to put more emphasis on experience than age.

It doesn’t surprise me that Tony Kanaan is being kicked to the curb by Ganassi, it just irritates me. As good an outfit as Chip Ganassi operates, his personnel decisions have been sketchy at best. I think he fancies himself having an eye for talent, when history has shown otherwise.

Granted, he found a jewel in Scott Dixon when he plucked him off of the Pac-West scrap heap after three races into the 2002 CART season – but there have been way more misses than hits. For every Scott Dixon, Juan Montoya and Alex Zanardi you show me, I can show you countless examples of Ganassi “finds” like Nicolas Minassian and Darren Manning. Even drivers with great credentials like Dan Wheldon, Eddie Cheever, Kenny Bräck, Memo Gidley and Arie Luyendyk struggled at Ganassi – while other Ganassi castoffs like Bruno Junqueira, Bryan Herta, Ryan Briscoe and Graham Rahal went on to find some measure of success at other teams.

So Chip Ganassi is casting a very popular driver, who also happens to be an Indianapolis 500 winner and series champion, onto the already large CGR trash pile. This is not Kanaan’s best season and I’m sure he would tell you that. He is currently ranked ninth in the championship standings and is 143 points behind Josef Newgarden. But to say he is no longer competitive is not only a joke, but an insult. This past weekend at Pocono, Kanaan qualified fifth, finished fourth and led thirty-two laps. And if you think he’s lost any passion – did you see the smile on his face after qualifications? This is a man who will still do anything he can to win. If I were to win the $700 Million Powerball tonight and were starting up a team, I’d jump at the chance to sign Tony Kanaan, although he’d be smart enough to drive elsewhere.

I’m thinking that CGR is not giving him the best car to drive each week. We all agree that Scott Dixon is a great driver, but my guess is that they are throwing the best effort at Dixon’s car each week, while the other Ganassi cars are getting second-rate attention in the shop each week. When Target was on both cars in 2014, I feel like Dixon and Kanaan were getting equal cars. Once Target switched to Dixon’s car exclusively for the next two years, I felt like Kanaan’s car was getting overlooked. I don’t think I’m alone in that assessment.

If I were running a team, I would have two cars as equal as possible – sort of like Newman/Haas with Mario and Michael Andretti or the Penske cars today. Can you honestly tell me who is really the lead Penske driver? There’s absolutely no question that CGR is Dixon’s team. I don’t fault Dixon for that. I fault Chip Ganassi.

And who is Kanaan being sacrificed for? Well, that’s a good question. The rumor mill says that Alexander Rossi is most likely to step into the No.10 Ganassi car, especially if Andretti Autosport switches to Chevy for next season. But what if Rossi stays put or goes somewhere else? I’ve heard that one dark horse candidate could be Esteban Gutierrez, who is currently driving for Dale Coyne. Personally, I don’t find that very exciting but it appeals to me more than another possibility – Felix Rosenqvist, who I don’t think moves the needle at all, but apparently Ganassi loves him.

I understand courting Alexander Rossi. While his personality is a bit subdued, he has proven that he is a special talent. He is eighteen years younger than Kanaan and has his whole career in front of him. I don’t like it, but I get it. But those other two? Please.

So if Kanaan is out at Ganassi, where does he go from here? My money is on Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, filling the seat in the No.7 car formerly occupied by Mikhail Aleshin. That would give Sam Schmidt the first one-two punch that he has had in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Kanaan brings some money to the table, which Sam likes. More importantly, Kanaan also usually brings the car home in one piece, which Sam also likes and did not get out of Aleshin (or Saavedra this past weekend).

It makes sense. Kanaan is most likely going to stay with Honda. They like him and he likes them. It would also give Schmidt a proven commodity to play off younger veteran James Hinchcliffe. I’m also not sure what other Honda teams will have openings, and which of those would pursue him.

I know many of you would prefer to see Tony Kanaan retire and let some younger talent come in. The Verizon IndyCar Series needs Tony Kanaan to be in this series as long as he wants to drive. To see an unwilling Tony Kanaan sitting on the sidelines will be too much to take. We’ve seen what losing their veterans to retirement has done for NASCAR over the last three seasons. We need Tony Kanaan for as long as he wants to be around. Like his soon-to-be former teammate Scott Dixon – Kanaan is just as good off of the track as he is on it. IndyCar needs his star-power.

George Phillips

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21 Responses to “Tony Kanaan Can Still Drive”

  1. I like the older drivers. As long as they stay competitive. I want them to drive as long as possible. I have found that now that I am no longer young, I am loosing interest in stick and ball sports because I don’t have players that I look up to. Respecting thugs is not in my wheelhouse. It was always more intriguing when they were older than me. Now, a lot of them just look like young, overpaid punks.

    I liked Kanaan a lot until I realized one day that he is only happy when he is having a good day. When he is having a bad day, he is not so nice. I will never loose respect for his career though.

    I want to see Castroneves drive as long as possible. Many think he is over the top and an actor but his staying power has been incredible. I was disappointed to see Juan Pablo Montoya get demoted to just Indy. I hated to see Dario Franchitti forced to quit. When Rick Mears hung it up, I had to recover for a while. The series needs these old guys and needs to covet them as long as they are here. They are like moon rocks, rare and special. I say cheers to the old guys. Keep kicking ass and taking names as long as you can!

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Well, Kanaan hasn’t won a race in three years.

      • There are quite a few current IndyCar drivers-young and old- who have not won a race in three years.

        • billytheskink Says:

          For reference, among those in Sunday’s race:

          Have won since Kanaan’s last victory (Fontana 2014):
          Will Power
          Josef Newgarden
          Alexander Rossi
          Simon Pagenaud
          Scott Dixon
          Helio Castroneves
          Ryan Hunter-Reay
          Graham Rahal
          Carlos Munoz
          Takuma Sato
          James Hinchcliffe

          Have won, but not since Kanaan’s last victory:
          Marco Andretti
          Ed Carpenter
          Charlie Kimball

          Have never won an Indycar race:
          Conor Daly
          Ed Jones
          Max Chilton
          Gabby Chaves
          JR Hildebrand
          Sebastian Saavedra
          Esteban Gutierrez

          Others who have competed this season who have won since Kanaan’s last victory:
          Sebastien Bourdais
          Juan Pablo Montoya

      • Carol Brinkman Says:

        So many factors are out of a driver’s hands…pit stops…other drivers…car problems…yellow flags…

    • Carol Brinkman Says:

      Great comment, in so many ways…I’ve always been a big Mears fan and enjoy visiting with him. Helio is usually upbeat (but everyone is human). Montoya was not friendly a lot of the time! But, from my observation, Tony has always been amazing – whether his day is going well or not…I just give him time and he has always responded well!

  2. I am normally with you George, I am, but on this one we differ. Ganassi has put up with Tony not winning much at all, once in fact in a race with a lot of attrition. Scott has won 8 times in that same group of years. I know the old guard eventually retires and people are sad about that, but I am personally ready to move on from Tony and Helio. Both guys who should settle for lower tier rides if they want to remain in the sport. A guy like Hinch winning races for Ganassi is better for the sport than Tony riding around in 7th place all season ad nauseam.

    It’s actually a shame that Sage never got a ride but Tony stayed in the car so long to be honest. This sport needs guys who will put their foot down and fight for wins, not the SPGA retirement tour that never ends.

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      AS a spectator at Pocono this past weekend, I would imagine that if one inspected Tony’s car following Pocono race that a hole would be found.

      Said hole would be just below the ‘gas’ pedal and created as a result of the wear & tear of Tony dicing with Graham or passing fellow competitors on the restarts.

      No additional examples necessary of Tony “putting his foot down and fighting for wins.”

    • Carol Brinkman Says:

      Tony and Helio both bring fans to the races – more than the majority of the rest of the full time drivers. Tony is very competitive. Talk to pit crews or some of the personnel in the pits at Long Beach – they will say the same thing. Both Tony and Sage drove for CGR – Tony is the #10 and Sage is the #8. I would like to have seen Sage remain in the #8 – but money talks…

  3. I don’t get caught up in “liking” or not “liking” a team owner or driver. I am happy that any IndyCar team owner is willing to put in the time and put in the money to field a team. Having said that, it still irritates me that Justin Wilson did not get better rides. Then there was the season that Dan Wheldon won the Indy500 only to then be unemployed. In the case of TK, he seems to still be very competitive. I believe the ol’ high banks drifter will still be in an IndyCar next season. I would love to see him do the Chili Bowl.

    • Carol Brinkman Says:

      Walking around the Paddock, at various tracks, it’s difficult to not like/dislike drivers/owners. Mr. Penske has always stopped to say “Hello”! or take a photo, with a young fan, if I ask him to. Some of the drivers are that way, too…Currently I can count on Tony, Helio, Will, Hinch and Josef to work with me when I am trying to show people new to IndyCar a fun day. I really miss Dan and Justin and will always treasure the photo that I have with them in Las Vegas.

  4. Gotta disagree. He’s uncompetitive at most races, especially road and street courses. Too infrequently at the front to justify that ride

  5. billytheskink Says:

    In fairness to Ganassi, as it pertains to his eye for talent compared to Penske, Chip gives young and unproven drivers a chance (some more than others). With few exceptions, Penske hires well-established drivers. Penske’s approach isn’t wrong, it just inherently is not going to produce close to as many misses as Ganassi’s.

    I hope to see Kanaan race as long he wants to, but I cannot say that I am not curious to see how well another driver does in the 10 car. Well, maybe not Esteban Gutierrez…

  6. James T Suel Says:

    Tony Kanaan needs to be in Indy car. Those who think he’s washed up are sadly mistaken. He will land a good ride.

  7. I have mixed emotions. If TK could land at SPM, great. If Bobby offered him a full time ride alongside Graham, even better. But I don’t think I’d want to see him out there in a Foyt car or with some new startup team. I wasn’t a Tracy fan, but I respected PT, and I hated seeing him have to slum at the end of his career. I’d really hate that for Tony.

    • Carol Brinkman Says:

      Thank you for your thoughts , Victor . I agree – could see Tony and Hinch working together. Not sure about Graham – don’t really know him… From a marketing standpoint – Tony should be a real plus. He is also very knowledgeable and someone who many drivers respect and look up to. Her’e hoping for the best scenario!!

  8. Kanaan has done poorly at road/street races. Perhaps he could become an oval-only driver, for example replacing Carpenter, or sharing a ride with Gutiérrez.

    • TK would have won Road America last year if it’d been a single lap longer. He has several top tens at Barber. Fourth at Toronto last year.

      I agree the sport needs Kanaan, and after seeing how disrespectfully Chip Ganassi treated him last night at Gateway, I’m looking forward to pulling for TK elsewhere in 2018.

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