IndyCar Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

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As MotorSportsTalk continues our driver-by-driver review of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series, we head next to the guy who gets to enjoy the last race win of the year an entire offseason: Tony Kanaan in P7.

2014 SEASON PREVIEW

Tony Kanaan

  • Team: Target Chip Ganassi Racing
  • 2013: 11th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 4th, 4 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 79 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.7 Avg. Finish
  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish

The old dog has some life in him yet. A frustrating first half of the year through Texas Motor Speedway in early June raised eyebrows both about Tony Kanaan’s desire and his ability level taking over arguably one of IndyCar’s highest profile seats, the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. But a dynamic run of form from Houston onward ensured that TK still had it, and could rise to the task of delivering in the 10 car.

There was only one top-five (a third in Detroit race one) in the first eight races. But from his being punted from a podium in Houston one, his dominance at Pocono and Iowa, a Toronto double podium, a third at Milwaukee and a clutch win at Fontana, Kanaan was perhaps the driver of the second half of the year.

You could put that second half gain down to several factors. He’d finally begun to gel within the CGR environment, with new engineer Chris Simmons, and got a handle on the chassis-to-engine dynamic as the team itself was acclimating to the Chevrolet switch. Kanaan’s overall qualifying average was only 9.2, which didn’t belie his actual speed. The first nine races, he had four starts of 16th or worse, including two from the final row. The last nine, Kanaan qualified in the top-10 every race, a run of form that was unrivaled in the series. All told, a positive end to a comeback season where Kanaan had greater speed, greater consistency and greater results.

Donny Schatz edges Kyle Larson for Outlaws victory at Lake Ozark

Trent Gower/World of Outlaws
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Donny Schatz made a last-lap pass on Kyle Larson, snatching a World of Outlaws victory Saturday night at Lake Ozark Speedway.

Larson started on the pole, led 30 of 35 laps and was in control until a caution set up a two-lap shootout to the finish before a limited crowd in Eldon, Missouri.

Schatz and Larson traded the lead twice over the final two laps, but the 10-time champion emerged with his first victory since the NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series returned in mid-May from a two-month layoff because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

‘THEY’VE STUCK BEHIND ME’: Kyle Larson comments on future, Outlaws plans

“Man, I don’t know what to say, but Kyle’s a damn good racer,” Schatz, who led five laps, told DirtVision after his 296th Outlaws win. “I kind of had to go where he didn’t. We got that green-white-checkered, and I decided I was going to send it. He decided the same thing.

Donny Schatz celebrates at Lake Ozark Speedway after his second Outlaws Sprint Car victory of the season (Trent Gower).

“I’m glad to get the win. It feels like it’s been forever. I’ve been out here 24 years, and every night is a learning experience still.”

Larson finished second in his fifth start since he began racing with the Outlaws after being suspended from NASCAR.

“Obviously, it would have been nice to get the win,” Larson said on DirtVision. “I figured Donny would rip the middle. The restarts before, he’d almost clear me in (turns) 3 and 4. I should have known to protect and block his momentum. I felt I exited 2 OK. We don’t have spotters or rearview mirrors so you can’t see how close he is or really hear it when the pace is so slow.

“I just didn’t do a good enough job to run a smarter final couple of laps.”

Brad Sweet, Larson’s brother in law, finished third, with Shane Stewart and David Gravel rounding out the top five.

Larson rebounded from a 10th in Friday’s feature at Lake Ozark Speedway, continuing his streak of top-10 finishes in all five of his starts since the Outlaws’ return.

“We got our car a lot better from last night, so that was a plus,” said Larson, who finished second and first in back-to-back nights last week at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at Pevely, Missouri. “These guys are really tough. To be on the podium with Donny and Brad, they’ve won lots of big races and championships, it’s nice. I just didn’t do what I needed to do that last restart.”

Larson nearly had a flawless night Saturday, turning a 11.426-second lap to capture his second pole position this season and won the pole dash to start first in the feature.

Larson, who was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing from his NASCAR Cup Series ride last month for using a racial slur in an iRacing event, said last week that he plans to run several more NOS Energy Sprint Car Series races this year.

Larson remains indefinitely suspended by NASCAR but was approved to race by the Outlaws after completing sensitivity training.