Kanaan set for more than just Indy 500 success with Ganassi switch in 2014

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One glorious, vintage Tony Kanaan restart was all it took for the Brazilian to finally check off the one remaining unchecked box on his IndyCar career checklist last year.

After passing Ryan Hunter-Reay on the inside with Carlos Munoz following to “RHR’s” outside, Kanaan had the lead into Turn 1, and a crash by Dario Franchitti moments later left the race under caution.

Kanaan, had, at long last, won the Indianapolis 500 in one of Indy’s most popular triumphs.

He’d reached the summit in his traditional No. 11, on his 12th attempt, in the 2013 edition of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” His self-described “ugly mug and big nose” would be next to his dear friends Franchitti and the late Dan Wheldon on the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy.

In some respects, that was all he needed to consider the season a success. And in some respects, that really was the highlight in a year that had a couple other good moments, but not a consistent enough campaign to challenge for a championship.

Since he transitioned IndyCar in 2003 from the CART ranks, Kanaan had never finished outside the top-10 in points. Yet last year, Kanaan ended 11th, with three other podiums and only two additional top-five finishes.

It was a year where Kanaan and the KV Racing Technology team opted to focus specifically on Indianapolis, and on ovals as a whole. The results there paid dividends.

Although there wasn’t the A.J. Foyt Trophy awarded to the top oval driver, “TK” ended 2013 with the third-most oval points, 202. He trailed only countryman Helio Castroneves (215) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (209) over those six races.

Yet disconcertingly, Kanaan ranked only 18th in points from the 13 remaining road and street course races, with only 195 points scored. Break down your averages and you see how much lower that total was (33.6 points per oval race; 15 points per road and street). Kanaan was ahead of only three other full-season drivers in Tristan Vautier, Sebastian Saavedra and Ed Carpenter.

With Kanaan not ready to hang up his helmet, now age 39 as of December 31, he was seeking one last chance to move back up the IndyCar totem pole.

He got that chance in October, named as fourth driver for Chip Ganassi Racing, as the projected fourth car alongside Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball.

Of course Franchitti needed to retire due to medical advice after his Houston injuries, and thus Kanaan has been entrusted with one of IndyCar’s most successful cars, the No. 10 Target car.

It came a few years late, perhaps, but still something that ticked all the right boxes for “TK.”

“A lot of people know I almost had a history in the 10 car before Dario got there. Dario proved that seat, coming from Dan, Dario and myself,” Kanaan said in December, when the announcement was made at the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis.

“I remember one of the toughest times this year when Dario was in my house in Florida doing all the tests to see if he was going to be able to drive it,” he added. “I didn’t know how to talk to my best friend, when he broke the news to me.

“He looked at me in the face and said, ‘You know, it would be really cool if you could drive the Target car and replace me. I think it’s going to make it easier on my retirement.’”

And while Kanaan being in the 10 will ease Franchitti’s pain of not being able to race once again, and go for his own shot at a fourth ’500 win, Kanaan has a big responsibility to go with his big opportunity.

His qualifying and Franchitti’s was similar in overall stats in 2013; Kanaan ended the year with an 11.2 average to Franchitti’s 11.3.

But Franchitti had four pole positions, all on road and street courses, while Kanaan did not have the same level of success on those circuits. He made the Firestone Fast Six twice, but had only two other top-10 starts on road and street courses.

Kanaan will work with Chris Simmons as his engineer on the No. 10 Chevrolet, although his longtime engineer Eric Cowdin also comes over from KV and will engineer Ryan Briscoe’s No. 8 entry.

He and Simmons do have a past history at Andretti Green Racing in 2003. Kanaan told MotorSportsTalk in January he’s optimistic they can gel rather quickly.

“That makes it a lot easier,” he admitted. “Eric has worked with Ryan before. It’s all there, the confidence is there, and we know each other. There’s no adapting issues; it’s just more me getting used to the setup.”

Kanaan, like Briscoe, has experience with Chevrolet’s twin-turbo specification and that should be a benefit as the Ganassi team switches from Honda in 2014.

But really for Kanaan, his 2014 is going to be about recapturing the form that saw him in title contention every year for Andretti, and upping his qualifying game a bit on road and street courses.

He remains one of IndyCar’s best on ovals, and best outright racers.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)