Tony Kanaan will have another chance for a proper IndyCar farewell tour with a two-year deal on ovals to partner with Jimmie Johnson at Chip Ganassi Racing.
Kanaan will compete in the four oval events on IndyCar’s 2021 schedule that Johnson does not plan to run. The seven-time NASCAR champion signed on for the road and street course events, and Ganassi announced Monday that Kanaan will complete the season in the No. 48 Honda.
“I was on the way out and all of a sudden I get a call from Jimmie about running the ovals. He kept saying ‘Doesn’t this make sense?’ ” Kanaan told The Associated Press. “They didn’t have to twist my arm to come back, especially with Jimmie and Chip.”
Kanaan’s 23rd season was supposed to be his last, but the popular Brazilian was able to put together only a six-race “Last Lap” farewell on IndyCar’s ovals. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic then disrupted the entire year. and Kanaan was not able to celebrate the end of his career with fans. He began exploring ways to return part time in 2021 along with becoming a driver coach.
The two-year opportunity to pair with Johnson gets Kanaan back to Ganassi, where he raced from 2014-17 and scored his 17th and final victory. It’s also a chance to race in front of his rabid base. Kanaan will compete in 2021 in the doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway, at Gateway near St. Louis and at the Indianapolis 500, where he became a beloved winner in 2013.
We've got a familiar face back at @CGRindycar! 👏@TonyKanaan will pilot the No. 48 for each of the four #INDYCAR oval races in 2021 with @NTTDATAServices and Bryant.
INFO: https://t.co/nFGFvclIzz pic.twitter.com/PNDZYIJSGN
— Chip Ganassi Racing (@CGRTeams) November 23, 2020
Kanaan, who will turn 46 on New Year’s Eve, is grateful for this opportunity at the end of his career. He also has been picked to drive all six races in Tony Stewart’s start-up SRX Racing Series of all-stars next year.
“I guess I must have done something really good in my life,” Kanaan said. “Once you leave a team like Ganassi, you don’t get a chance to come back, especially at this time in my career. This is just a perfect fit. It is so obvious, as Jimmie said, for me to race the ovals that he does not want to race.
“Because of the pandemic, I expressed a desire to come back and do ovals. I never said I wanted to do a full season because I was realistic. So this is just too good to refuse.”
The No. 48 will be sponsored by NTT DATA and Bryant, two longtime Kanaan partners. Both NTT Data and Bryant stepped in this last season when Kanaan sold a six-race farewell tour with A.J. Foyt Racing. NTT Data first partnered with Kanaan in 2013, and Bryant has worked with the driver for 14 seasons.
Nathan Brown of the Indianapolis Star reported the deal was part of an extension by Ganassi with NTT Data.
Ganassi, who just hired 23-year-old Alex Palou to drive his No. 10 IndyCar entry next season, liked the idea of a veteran lineup in the No. 48.
“As the Indy car driver market trends younger and younger, experience is something that cannot be taught — especially at the Indianapolis 500,” Ganassi said. “There is no one more experienced in the paddock than Tony, and when we needed the right fit for rounding out our oval program, it was clear he was the right choice.
“Tony also knows our team, he knows our system and he knows our drivers. We expect the combination of him and Jimmie to give us the one-two punch we’re looking for in the No. 48.”