IndyCar: Tony Kanaan’s ‘Last Lap’ begins at Texas Motor Speedway

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The streak lives for Tony Kanaan. At least for one more race.

With Kanaan running only ovals during his farewell IndyCar season in 2020 – which has been dubbed the “Last Lap” – his record streak of 317 consecutive Indy-car starts was to end with the season opener March 15 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Fate had other plans. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the postponement of St. Pete (now the season finale in October) amid the shutdown of American sports.

IndyCar has made multiple changes to its 2020 schedule since then, and as a result, Kanaan is getting an opportunity to extend his “Ironman” streak.

The 2004 NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner is set for career start No. 318 on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway – driving the No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet alongside the team’s new full-season driver, Charlie Kimball, in the No. 4 Chevy.

Kanaan also announced a twist Wednesday afternoon: Longtime former sponsor 7-Eleven will return on his car Saturday.

“A lot of people ask me how I coped with the delay of the season,” Kanaan said Monday in an IndyCar Zoom news conference. “To be honest, I was mentally prepared already because my first real race was going to be the [Indy] 500. My mind was already set for May.

“I only really had to delay, what, a couple of weeks from what I was originally scheduled to do. For me, I think it wasn’t as hard as for the other guys that were already in St. Pete, ready to go.”

But while his mindset is locked in, Kanaan notes that he’s been out of a race car for eight months. In fact, as of Monday, he hadn’t sat in a car fitted with the new Aeroscreen cockpit protection system.

However, he is no stranger to the wild and woolly action at Texas. Ditto for his new-slash-old teammate, Kimball: The two competed together at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2014-17.

That experience is something A.J. Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt is grateful to have on his side.

“Going into this race, it’s huge,” Foyt said. “Especially with the one-day show, everything is accelerated, and going to a big track like Texas, having a guy like Charlie sit on the pole there [in 2017], knows his way around there, and obviously TK is very good there, as well.

“It’s a little bit of peace of mind for sure. Anything can happen, but the engineering group has been working really well together. We’re really hopeful we’re going to unload and get these guys some good cars out of the box. That’s the plan.”

Speaking of Kimball, the Californian is set to revive his full-time career in the sport after making just seven starts last season with Carlin.

He’s enjoyed his unexpected free time at home with his wife, Kathleen, and their two children, Hannah and newborn son Gordon, who arrived in March. But he’s grateful to get back in the car – and to accompany Tony on his ‘last lap.’

“We’re friends off the track,” Charlie said. “We train together. He’s gotten me addicted to riding a bicycle on a computer game, but also our wives are friends, and I think our families when we can get together and the kids can play, I think they’re going to interact really well. I’m excited for his daughter Nina to spend some time with our daughter.

“And the experience – I mean, he’s taught me things and I’ve learned a lot from him about how to restart on ovals and what you can and what you should and shouldn’t do and what he still does. That experience is invaluable to me to continue to learn and get better. I just feel really honored to be his teammate during his last lap, especially when we get back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500.”

SATURDAY INDYCAR START TIMES AND TV SCHEDULE:

β€”IndyCar practice:Β 1 p.m., NBC Sports Gold

β€”IndyCar qualifying:Β 5 p.m., NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold

β€”Countdown to Green:Β 7:30 p.m., NBCSN

β€”IndyCar Genesys 300:Β 8 p.m., NBC

β€”IndyCar postrace coverage:Β 10 p.m., NBCSN

Maverick Vinales scores first MotoGP win of season after Bagnaia crashes

MotoGP Maverick Vinales
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images
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Maverick Vinales ended a seasonlong winless drought in MotoGP, winning the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix after Francesco Bagnaia crashed while leading with seven laps to go.

Holding off Joan MIr and Pol Espargarao at the Misano circuit, Vinales, 25, won his first race since the Malaysian Grand Prix last year. The Yahama rider is the sixth different winner in eight rounds this season.

With his eighth career victory, the Spaniard moved into a tie for second in the standings with Fabio Quartararo, who finished fourth Sunday after being penalized 3 seconds for violating track limits and losing a spot. There are seven races remaining in the season, which has had no repeat winners since Quartararo opened with consecutive victories in Spain.

“Amazing job this weekend,” Vinales said. “(Bagnaia) was very fast, I was pushing a lot and trying to save a bit of tire for the last 10 laps. Very happy because my mentality ha been competely the same, we just found a better setup.

“I appreciate all the work, because threre had been tough times in my team, but we kept pushing and found better luck, and we have to continue like that.”

Andrea Dovizioso, who finished eighth, leads the championship by a point over Vinales and Quartararo.

Bagnaia, who finished second a week earlier, was on track to become the fifth first-time winner in MotoGP’s premier series this season. But he lost control in Turn 6 while under pressure for the lead from Vinales.

Pramac Racing rider Francesco Bagnaia stands after crashing from the lead during the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at the Misano circuit (ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images).