Tony Kanaan says he has ‘a plan’ for one last start in the Indy 500 next season: ‘I’m ready’

Indy 500 Tony Kanaan
Justin Casterline/Getty Images for SiriusXM
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INDIANAPOLIS – It’s not up to Tony Kanaan whether he will drive in the Indy 500 again.

But if it were, he doesn’t think it’s a tough decision whether he still has what it takes in his late 40s to win the world’s biggest race.

“I cannot even say because I’m going to curse,” Kanaan, 47, said Sunday when asked if his third-place finish (his best at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since winning the 2013 Indy 500) proved he was good as he ever has been on the 2.5-mile oval. “It’s so lame that people think we’re old at 47. We can’t drive anymore. It’s crap. So, yeah, I’m ready. Ready to do it again.”

The question is whether Kanaan will have another opportunity. This was his second consecutive start with Chip Ganassi Racing, which needed a fill-in last year for Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Dallara-Honda last season and added a fifth car for Kanaan this year when Johnson changed his mind about ovals.

After initially declaring that 2020 would be his last season in IndyCar, Kanaan now is hoping to make 2023 his 22nd and final start in the Indy 500.

“I want to do one more, and next year will be my 25th year in IndyCar,” said the Brazilian, who began racing in the CART Series in 1998 and recently wrote an essay about the toll racing can take on a driver’s mental health. “Right now I have no deal, but if I can make it happen, we will call it the last one. So hopefully we have a year to figure that out. If not, this place doesn’t owe me anything. Look at the fans during the red flag, I still had the biggest cheer that they wanted it to win. I’ll be extremely grateful, but we’ll try.”

Tony Kanaan takes a moment after finishing third in the 106th Indy 500 (Bob Goshert/For IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Network).

It briefly seemed the 106th Indy 500 might be Kanaan’s to win. IndyCar stopped the race on Lap 195 for cleanup after a crash by Johnson with teammate Marcus Ericsson in the lead.

That set up a two-lap shootout to the checkered flag with Kanaan hoping he could “pull a TK restart” with one of his patented passes on the outside at the green flag. But he was unable to maneuver his No. 1 Dallara-Honda around the Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolets of runner-up Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist (whom he eventually got around for a third as Ericsson won the race).

“I think the key was when Pato saw Felix coming alongside on the other end, and he actually moved (inside) and left me, like, basically facing the wind,” Kanaan said. “I’m like, ‘Whoa, I still want to finish in the top three here.’ I knew it was over.

“I moved to the outside, gave Felix the space, and I kept it flat. Obviously I know Felix well enough, I knew he was not going to play dirty. Coming off the short chute, Pato had to take the line to go to turn two. That gave me enough draft, (but) I knew it was over.”

But is it the end of his IndyCar career? Regardless, there still will be plenty of chances this year to see the popular Kanaan, who will be racing for the second consecutive year in the Superstar Racing Experience and a stock-car series in Brazil.

“I was very emotional on the cool-down lap, talking to the team,” he said after leading six laps Sunday. “I know my days are numbered (at the Indy 500). I have a plan, like I said. I think next year will be probably, if I can make it happen, will be really the last one. As of right now, this was the last one.

“I’m doing 23 races this year, more than actually I did when I was in IndyCar. I don’t feel like I’m retiring. I know I can still drive. Of course, we have this thing that people like to talk about, age and age and age. But I think I’m in pretty good shape. I’ll keep doing it as long as the opportunity presents. Obviously to come back here, especially in the last two years with the team that I’m at, if it’s not there, I’m going to evaluate my chances. I don’t want to just be here to participate. I’ve done that plenty of times.”

The best shot probably would be with team owner Chip Ganassi, who wasn’t ruling it out Sunday.

“In his retirement we’ve made him the vice president of entertainment,” Ganassi said with a smile. “And he can drive, too, yeah. He can still win this race. You saw today with his performance. Kanaan is a veteran. He’s a wily veteran. He knows his way around this place, no question. So we’re not throwing him out yet.”

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”