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Tony Kanaan set to close IndyCar career with five-race ‘farewell tour’

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One of the most popular drivers in IndyCar racing is set to say his final farewells this season.

Tony Kanaan will close out his illustrious IndyCar career by running the five oval races in 2020, beginning with the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 24.

The 45-year-old Brazilian then will run the Saturday night races at Texas Motor Speedway (June 6), Richmond Raceway (June 27), Iowa Speedway (July 18) and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (Aug. 22) to close out his final season.

The announcement was made Thursday morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I look back at all these years racing in IndyCar and the first thing that comes to my mind is how fortunate I’ve been to be in the top level of the sport for this long,” Kanaan said. “I walked into this sport as a 23-year-old with lots of hopes and dreams and I can say, without a doubt, that I accomplished everything I wanted.

“I’m 45 now. I have fans, wins, podiums, records, a championship and an Indy 500. I feel and know I can still do this for a long time, but like everything else in life there is also a cycle in racing. For a long time, I’ve been asked when I would retire, and my answer was always the same: The day I wake up in the morning and feel like I can’t do this anymore, that’s when I’m going to retire.

“Unfortunately, there are other things one should take into consideration when planning the future, and probably the most important one is what are the options that are available. For 2020, my best option was to race the five ovals of the IndyCar season, the sport that gave me so much and that I will always love.

“I’m not done with racing, that’s for sure. I decided that this year I would step back a bit and enjoy these five races, have time for my family and my fans, and also give back to the sponsors that always stood by me.”

Kanaan’s announcement came as his current team of A.J. Foyt Racing is experiencing sponsorship difficulties. ABC Supply Co, which has sponsored the team since 2005, made the decision to scale back their sponsorship to just one race, the Indy 500.

Longtime personal sponsors 7-Eleven, Big Machine Vodka, NTT Data and Bryant Heating and Cooling will provide sponsorship for Kanaan in the remaining four oval races of the season.

“You guys probably aren’t going to see the same car every race, but every sponsor of mine, they’ve been with me for more than a decade,” Kanaan said. “[They’re] stepping up for me to be able to do this.”

Kanaan’s IndyCar career began in 1998 with Tasman Motorsports after capturing the Indy Lights title with the team in the year prior. He achieved success early on in his career, winning CART Rookie of the Year honors later that season.

In his second season, Kanaan captured his first pole position at Long Beach and won his first race at Michigan International Speedway.

He then went on to win 16 more times in his career, including the Indianapolis 500 in 2013. Additionally, Kanaan won the 2004 NTT IndyCar Series title for Andretti Autosport.

Although Kanaan is only scheduled to race in five IndyCar events this season, he stated that he would still be in attendance at many other rounds of the 2020 season and participate in promotional events such as autograph sessions.

As for the future, Kanaan said he doesn’t know what his exact plans are just yet, but he will remain active in the racing community.

“I don’t want anybody to think I’m retiring and I’m disappearing,” Kanaan said. “First of all, I still can drive. We’ve been in talks. We’ve been in talks with IMSA and a bunch of other series. People are like, ‘So what are you doing? What are you doing next year?’ Tony Stewart is like, ‘When are you coming back to Eldora?’ Now I think I can do all those things.

“I think I will enjoy it a lot. I don’t want people to get the impression that this is it, and this is not it in IndyCar, either. But like I said, that’s all I can say right now. Hopefully we’ll surprise you guys through the year with some different stuff.”

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

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The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994