Even though he hasn’t won a race since the 2013 Indianapolis 500, Tony Kanaan has become a force again in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
In the past two races over a seven-day period Kanaan has led a total of 325 laps including 247 in Saturday’s night’s 300-lap race at Iowa Speedway. Despite those numbers as the dominant car in each race, Kanaan finished 11th at Pocono on July 6 and finished third at Iowa after race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and second-place finisher Josef Newgarden blew past him on fresh tires.
With older Firestone rubber on Kanaan’s No. 10 Target Dallara/Chevrolet the 2004 IndyCar Series champion knew he was at a disadvantage and when Hunter-Reay passed the driver from Brazil for the lead with just two laps to go it was the end of Kanaan’s bid for victory.
Kanaan’s third-place finish was his fifth-straight podium finish at Iowa Speedway but the look of startled disappointment on his face gave him no reason to celebrate.
“Strong result? Well, it was a good one,” Kanaan said. “What can I say? We had a good day. We led 247 laps out of 300. I think we showed them what we had. At the end there sometimes strategies and gambles play out.
“We got played. Fair enough.
“I’ve won races like that, too. I lost today. It’s just hard to take it. But I think to win races we got to run up front, and that’s what we’ve been doing in the past three races. We just got to keep doing that. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
In 2008 Kanaan had an opportunity to drive the No. 10 Target/Chip Ganassi IndyCar and he turned it down – a move that he later regretted as Dario Franchitti won two of his three Indianapolis 500s and three of his four IndyCar Series championships in that ride. But when Franchitti was forced into early retirement by doctor’s orders following a career-ending crash at Houston last October, Kanaan got a second chance to drive the famed No. 10 and it looked like it would power him to Victory Lane.
He was the leader when Ed Carpenter and Juan Pablo Montoya crashed in Turn 3 on Lap 282 and most of the drivers on the track decided track position was more important than fresh tires. Hunter-Reay, Newgarden and Graham Rahal all decided it was worth the gamble to pit and get new Firestones for a run to the finish. Carpenter would pit one lap later with the same strategy.
Safety workers were able to clear the track much sooner than Kanaan expected so when the green flag flew with 10 laps remaining, Hunter-Reay, Newgarden and Rahal were ninth, 10th and 11th.
They sliced through the field like a razor blade with Hunter-Reay passing four cars on the first lap. By the time he made it up to Kanaan the speed differential was dramatic. Hunter-Reay took the lead with two laps to go and went on to become the first driver this season to win three IndyCar races.
“You can’t compare new tires to a 20-lap tire or 30-lap tire,” Kanaan explained. “I couldn’t have done anything different unless I pitted like they did. To do that leading the race, it would have been the craziest move on earth to do it.”
Over the last three weeks Kanaan was running third preparing for a late-race restart before he was taken out by Rahal, who was warming up his tires; he led the most laps at Pocono but with only one caution period in a 200-lap race he had to pit for fuel four laps from the finish.
And on Saturday night at Iowa he felt as if he had a win stolen from him.
But it is quite clear that Kanaan’s performance in his first season at Target/Chip Ganassi Racing has once again made him a force in IndyCar.
“Oh, for sure,” he said. “I always try to look at the positives. It’s not going to do me any good to dwell on the strategy last week and the strategy this week. We dominated the last two races. For one reason or the other, we didn’t win. But to win a race, you got to be up front. That’s what we’ve been doing.
“I’m not going to say I’m extremely happy about it, but I am extremely satisfied with the way we’re doing things in the team. A win is around the corner, for sure. We’re going to Toronto, a race that Dixon dominated last year, both doubleheaders. We have high hopes there, trying to finish the season on a high note.”
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