Tony Kanaan looks toward 2021 with eye on driving, media and coaching

Tony Kanaan What's next
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Kanaan doesn’t think he has started his last NTT IndyCar Series race, but he also knows the decision on what’s next isn’t entirely up to him.

“I want to come back, but that doesn’t mean anything,” Kanaan said Saturday before qualifying at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. “Me wanting something doesn’t mean that’s what is going to happen. I still have to find a car and find a sponsor.

“I’ll have the whole winter toward finding a ride and a sponsor that might give me a chance to run again. If not, I’m OK with it. I had an awesome run.”

The 2004 series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner treated a 19th-place finish Sunday as if his 383rd start were the finale of a 23-year run as an IndyCar driver.

With 17 victories and 15 pole positions in 383 starts (ranking second all time to Mario Andretti’s 407), Kanaan isn’t ready to say goodbye after hardly getting the chance during his “Last Lap” season that was marred by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“I definitely want to come back after a weird year for all of us, so it’s going to take a lot of work, which I don’t mind,” Kanaan said last month on Indy 500 qualifying weekend. “I’ve done it before. I’m going to regroup with my sponsors to see what we can come up with. I’m probably in a good position if I can gather the funds and say, ‘All right, where am I going to go?’ ”

Tony Kanaan jokingly tried to fit a mask last month on his sculpted bust from his 2013 Indy 500 victory on the Borg-Warner Trophy, which he also outfitted with its own mask (Photos by Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports).
(Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

Kanaan expects to spend the next two months knocking on doors to cobble together a budget that he then can shop to teams for at least racing in the 105th Indy 500 in May. The meetings about his ’21 prospects began this week.

“I have not talked to any teams yet,” he said. “I think the best approach was going to be let’s see what kind of money I can raise, then I can go talk to the teams. I think all my sponsors are on board as far as wanting to talk to see what extent they can do something, if they can do something. The next two weeks I probably will know something, then we’ll start talking. But we’ll see. It’s going to be really hard.”

His goals are flexible – anywhere from a one-off Indy 500 start to the five ovals he had planned to run in ’20. He is “100 percent certain” it won’t be a full season.

The primary objective is a proper farewell that will allow the interaction with fans that the popular Brazilian was robbed of enjoying during this star-crossed season, which also saw the end of his record streak of 318 consecutive starts.

“We had so many plans to do it with the fans,” he said. “I hinted at (racing in 2021) and got bombarded by my fans that I need to do this, so the response was pretty cool.”

Tony Kanaan prepares to race the No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet at World Wide Technology Raceway last weekend, his final starts of the 2020 IndyCar season (James Black/IndyCar).

His ideal schedule would be at least 10 races – five in IndyCar, plus the inaugural season in the Superstar Racing Experience series started by Ray Evenrham and Tony Stewart. Kanaan signed a letter of intent in mid-August with the series and jokes “there is life beyond IndyCar!” – and it might not be behind the wheel. He has plans to branch out into media (he has dabbled in Indy Lights broadcasting).

“I have a lot of talks to do some commentary and podcasts,” Kanaan said. “That would be something I’d be really interested in doing. I’m not the type of a guy who says I need the time off.”

He is intrigued by the idea of coaching two or three up and comers in the IndyCar ladder series — as he already was a natural mentor for teammates throughout his career.

“I’ve done that all my life literally in IndyCar,” said Kanaan, whose legendary dedication to workouts and ease with interviews provide a good foundaiton for teaching the rigors of a driver’s life off the track. “And I could help these kids, not just on the driving side, but to tell them, ‘This is how you should behave with the media. This is how to treat sponsors. You’re going to work your ass off every morning like I did.’ Just guide the kids. I haven’t talked to anybody, and I don’t have a kid in mind, but  I have plenty of time to look at the ladder series of IndyCar. That’s something I’d love to do.”

But of course, he’d love nothing more than to race again in IndyCar, too, particularly after feeling good about his six starts in 2020 with A.J. Foyt Racing. He was a season-best ninth Saturday at Gateway and was contending for a top 10 in the Indy 500 before a miscue on his last pit stop.

“It was a very consistent season, if I can call that a season,” he said. ““It was nothing like I had planned. I had a lot of plans to enjoy with the sponsors, the fans, everybody else. I would say the highlight was just to be a part of it. I had a good run. I made good friends.”

That was evident by the receiving line of team members and drivers who greeted Kanaan before what could be his final start.

“It was weird, man,” Kanaan said. “I mean, it was really tough. I wasn’t expecting that. I think I kind of had forgotten without the fans, I thought it was going to be a lot easier because there would be less people.

“It was tough. Especially when you have the adrenaline kicking in right before the race. You try to concentrate. I obviously got extremely emotional. But it’s nice. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t plan it. It was really cool.”

Seattle Supercross by the numbers: Three riders separated by 17 points


Three riders remain locked in a tight battle with 17 points separating the leader Cooper Webb from third-place Chase Sexton and these are only a few Supercross numbers to consider entering Seattle.

Seattle Supercross numbers
Chase Sexton made a statement in Detroit with his second win of 2023. – Feld Motor Sports

For the fifth time in 10 rounds. Sexton, Webb, and Eli Tomac shared the podium in Detroit. Between them, the trio has taken 23 podiums, leaving only seven for the remainder of the field. Jason Anderson, Ken Roczen and Justin Barcia have two each with Aaron Plessinger scoring the other.

Webb and Tomac won the last four championships with two apiece in alternating years, but they were not one another’s primary rival for most of those seasons. On the average, however, the past four years show an incredible similarity with average points earned of 21.0 for Webb and 21.3 for Tomac. With five wins so far this season, Tomac (23 wins) leads Webb (19) in victories but Webb (43) edges Tomac (41) in podium finishes during this span.

Tomac has won two of the last three Seattle races and those two wins in this stadium are topped only by James Stewart. Fittingly, if Tomac gets a third win this week, he will tie Stewart for second on the all-time wins’ list. Tomac tied Ricky Carmichael for third with 48 wins at Oakland and took sole possession of that spot with his Daytona win.

Sexton still has a lot to say and after winning last week in Detroit, he is speaking up. The Supercross numbers are against him entering Seattle, however, because a points’ deficit this large after Round 10 has been erased only once. In 1983 David Bailey was 47 points behind Bob Hannah, and like Sexton he was also in third place. Bailey took the points’ lead with one race remaining.

The seven points Sexton was penalized last week for jumping in a red cross flag section in Detroit could prove extremely costly.

In fact, it has been a series of mistakes that has cost Sexton the most. In the last two weeks, he lost 10 points with a 10th-place finish to go with his penalty. Erase those, and all three riders hold their fate in their hands.

Plessinger’s heartbreak in Detroit is still fresh, but the upside of his run is that was his best of the season and could turn his fortunes around. Prior to that race, he led only seven laps in three mains. He was up front for 20 laps in Detroit with five of those being the fastest on the track.

Last week’s win by Hunter Lawrence tied him with his brother Jett Lawrence for 17th on the all-time wins’ list. With the focus shifting to 250 West for the next two rounds, Jett has a great opportunity to pull back ahead. The real test will be at the first East / West Showdown in East Rutherford, New Jersey on April 22.

Last Five Seattle Winners

2022: Eli Tomac
2019: Marvin Musquin
2018: Eli Tomac
2017: Marvin Musquin
2014: Ryan Villopoto

2022: Hunter Lawrence
2019: Dylan Ferrandis
2018: Aaron Plessinger
2017: Aaron Plessinger
2014: Cole Seely

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

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Chase Sexton wins in Detroit, penalized seven points