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.”