Kanaan fit, focused, still fast going into third Ganassi season


The headline to this piece itself is an indication that Tony Kanaan perhaps wasn’t meant to still be here three years later, in this place, in one of the marquee seats in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

But he is. And he’s not slowing down anytime soon.

“TK,” who turned 41 on New Year’s Eve, prepares to undertake his third full season with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2016 – his second in the now NTT Data-backed No. 10 Dallara-Chevrolet – and remains motivated and primed to prove to any doubters that he’s still got it.

“In 2013, people were saying ‘he might be done’ because we didn’t have the money and sponsorship. And now here we are in 2016 and I’m driving for one of the best teams in the IndyCar paddock,” Kanaan told MotorSportsTalk during this weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 test at Daytona International Speedway.

“It is extremely rewarding, it proves that I can still drive. Some people may say ‘Now you’re 41, you’re getting old.’ I don’t know where they get that from because we’ve still got it. I’m lucky to do what I love and drive for one of the best teams. I think this is every driver’s dream.”

And frankly, the stats back that up. If anything, the stats don’t do it justice simply how good Kanaan has been since taking over the the No. 10 car from Dario Franchitti at the end of 2013, following the Scot’s medically-enforced retirement after his accident in Houston.

In two seasons (2014, 2015), Kanaan has led 620 laps, won once, scored nine podiums, 12 top-fives and 22 top-10 finishes, and finished seventh and eighth in the standings. That’s better than he did after two seasons ending ninth and 11th with KV Racing Technology (now KVSH Racing), even in the year he won the 2013 Indianapolis 500.

And races like Iowa each of the last two years or Pocono in 2014 – events that Kanaan dominated but lost through no fault of his own either on pit road or from mechanical woes – continues to prove he is still one of the best oval drivers out there to this day.

This past year, in 2015, Kanaan assessed his performance as better than in his first season with Ganassi, when he was transitioning over.

“It’s hard to give yourself a grade. I had a better season than the year before, so I would say I would give myself a B,” he said.

“I’d give Scott (Dixon) an A-plus, as a team we won the championship. So obviously, we have to try to do that again this year.”

Given that, he’s bullish on 2016 potential as well.

“My outlook is we’re coming off a season where we won the championship, we have very strong cars, not a lot of changes,” he said. “So I think we’ll be very competitive. And if we do things right, I think we can win the championship.”

Kanaan, like teammate Scott Dixon, has a title to defend first later this month at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Along with Ganassi NASCAR aces Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, they’ll be in the No. 02 Riley-Ford in the final scheduled outing for the team’s Daytona Prototypes, as the new Ford GT program comes online at Daytona concurrently.

Kanaan heads into Daytona fresh off a winter full of family time with his two sons, Leo and Deco, at least one triathlon, hernia surgery and a new tattoo.

The 2015 Rolex 24 was an important race for Kanaan. His previous starts came in 1998 and in 2013 and in neither car was he able to contend for the overall win. In his first Rolex 24 with Ganassi, he played a key part.

“It was a last minute deal three years ago with Porsche. It was cool because it was with my friend Rubens (Barrichello). But it wasn’t the proper deal,” he admitted.

“Since I came back here, it’s been a deal that you know you can win the race. Like I said, it’s every driver’s dream. It just has changed because you go from something that you’re just participating, now to where you can make a difference.

“Winning last year was just unbelievable. It’s one of those things you never forget. And when you have such a success like that, you want to keep coming back. They give you the opportunity to come back, with the same guys, the same cars. I can keep doing this for years.”

Kyle Larson wins third consecutive High Limit Sprint race at Eagle Raceway, Rico Abreu second again

Larson High Limit Eagle
High Limit Racing - Twitter

It took four attempts for Kyle Larson to win his first High Limit Sprint Car Series race in the series he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet, but once he found victory lane, he has been undefeated with his win at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway. For the second week, Abreu led early only to fall prey to Larson.

The win was Larson’s third straight victory and the fifth consecutive top-five, giving him a perfect sweep of the season after finishing 10th in last year’s inaugural race at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana.

Larson started third behind Abreu and Brent Marks but was embroiled in a fierce battle with Anthony Macri for third during the first dozen laps. Larson slipped by Macri in traffic until a red flag waved for a flip by Lachlan McHugh.

Meanwhile at the front of the pack, Marks retook the lead from Abreu on Lap 18. Larson followed one lap later and then caution waved again. Tyler Courtney lost power and fell to 24th after starting eighth.

Marks scooted away on the restart but tragedy struck in Lap 26. Leading the race, Marks hit a pothole in Turn 1, bicycled and then flipped, handing the lead to Larson.

Abreu caught Larson again during the final laps and in a reprise of their battle at Tri-City Speedway, the two threw sliders at one another for several laps until Larson built some separation and ran away to the checkers.

“I didn’t feel like my pace in [Turns] 1 & 2 slowed down a ton,” Larson said from victory lane. “I missed it once there and then I saw his nose in 3 & 4. I didn’t know if he nailed the bottom that well behind me and I think he might have slid me in the next corner, so he was definitely on the top.

“I was nervous to move up there because my car was really pogoing up in the entry of 1. I got up just in time, made a few mistakes and he threw a couple more sliders at me but he was just a little too far back and I was able to squirt around him. Then I really had to commit to hitting my marks – back my effort down a bit to avoid mistakes.”

After leading early, Abreu fell back as far as sixth, but faith in his car kept hope alive.

“I just needed to do a few things a few laps before I did and fix some angles, then my car got a whole lot better,” Abreu said. “I’m thankful for this team; they do an amazing job. They don’t give up on me. I know my car is going to be there right at the end of these races, so it’s just the discipline of being patient.”

For Abreu, it was his third near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps and he lost the lead to Larson late in the Tri-City Speedway race. Abreu has finished sixth or better in his last three High Limit races with each result being progressively better until his pair of runner-up results.

Third-place finisher Scelzi was the hard charger, advancing from 17th.

“I had a very specific plan; don’t go near [the hole in Turn 1],” Scelzi said. “It worked out. No one wanted to start on the top. I think I gained a couple of rows there on the choose cone and ran the middle, which seemed to be better than right around the bottom.”

Michael “Buddy” Kofoid in fourth and Macri rounded out the top five.

World of Outlaws star and former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was one of 41 entrants, but he was not among the 26 starters. He failed to advance to the Main after finishing eighth in the B Main and seventh in his heat.

Feature Results

A Feature (40 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson[4]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[1]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[17]; 4. 71-Michael Kofoid[5]; 5. 39M-Anthony Macri[3]; 6. 9-Chase Randall[9]; 7. 26-Zeb Wise[14]; 8. 1X-Jake Bubak[15]; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel[10]; 10. 14D-Corey Day[18]; 11. 11-Cory Eliason[12]; 12. 5T-Ryan Timms[11]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 14. 21H-Brady Bacon[22]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[16]; 16. 7S-Robbie Price[19]; 17. 21-Brian Brown[23]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[26]; 19. 52-Blake Hahn[25]; 20. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[21]; 21. 3J-Dusty Zomer[6]; 22. 14-Cole Macedo[7]; 23. 19-Brent Marks[2]; 24. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[8]; 25. 25-Lachlan McHugh[20]; 26. 53-Jack Dover[24]

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway
Race 4: Kyle Larson wins at Tri-City Speedway