Photo: Riley W. Thompson/ASP, Inc.

Tony’s Last Ride: Kanaan Gearing Up for Final Indy 500

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

INDIANAPOLIS – Just call Tony Kanaan the Tom Brady of the NTT IndyCar Series.

After a number of announcements that he was retiring from driving only to reverse course the next season, Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 really is the end of the road for the 48-year-old Brazilian driver.

Kanaan, who has won 16 races in his career dating back to the early 2000’s, including the 2013 running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, is doing his best to take in all of the sights and surroundings for his final race on the 2.5-mile speedway as he gears up for his 22nd and final start at the historic track.

Following his retirement from full-time driving at the end of the 2019 season, Kanaan ran a part-time schedule for AJ Foyt Racing the following season, but with the effects of the worldwide pandemic forcing the Indy 500 to August with no fans in the stands, Kanaan just couldn’t go out like that.

Then came the opportunity to race for Chip Ganassi Racing alongside its star-studded lineup in what seemed to be Kanaan’s final chance at winning at Indianapolis. After finishing on the podium, he seemed ready to hang up the helmet for good, but once again, an offer came that he simply could not refuse.

Fast forward to present day, with Kanaan gearing up for his last ride – for real this time – driving the No. 66 Chevrolet for Arrow McLaren.

Photo: Riley W. Thompson/ASP, Inc.

“I decided that it was the final time three years ago, and we came back here and there was nobody on the stands. And I’m like, I can’t do that,” Kanaan explained of his journey over the past three years to get to this point.

“So, we worked really hard and then Jimmie [Johnson] and I got together and Jimmie’s like, I cannot do only one year, can we do two? And I said, ‘Jimmie, we’re gonna do one year. We’re gonna share a car. You’re gonna come watch the 500 next year, you’re gonna kick me out of the car. Sure enough.’

“He did not kick me out of the car, but we raced together. Chip made an extra car and I was fine. So last year I didn’t mention anything. We finished the race. I was convinced it was my last one. I was done.

“And I was not gonna announce because I’m tired of Dario, Dixon, Helio, all making fun of me like, ‘Hey, you think you’re Tom Brady?’ You know, like my wife is as hot as Gisele as I think. But then Zak [Brown] called and you talk about, I mean, racing is about performance, right? And, and a team like this, with the history that they have, they finished second and fourth. I know I still have it. I’m not giving up because I don’t think I have it. I just proved it again.

“I was like, okay, I’m not gonna say no, but this will be the last time, I can’t. And then honestly when I announced I couldn’t celebrate with anybody. I said, you know what I think will be fun for me, fun for my kids, for my family. I have 70 friends coming from Brazil just to watch this. So, it was the right time.”

When the green flag drops on Sunday, Kanaan will be near the front of the field, rolling off from ninth place, with all three of his Arrow McLaren teammates joining him in the rows just ahead. The strength that his team has showed not only this season, but in years past, was a determining factor for Kanaan to answer the call from team boss Zak Brown.

“I wanted to be back in a competitive car and no disrespect for a bunch of the teams here, but some of the teams are not,” Kanaan said. “And to be back and just to be a number and suffer through it and go away like that, I didn’t want to. So, Chip gave me an opportunity. Zak came.

“If Roger [Penske] called next year, I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna shoot myself, which is not gonna happen. You know what I mean? I’ve been around long enough that I know the opportunities are coming less and less and less. So instead to wait for that to just go away. Typical Tony Kanaan Brazilian side jumped again and said, ‘Oh, I’m not doing this anymore.’”

Whatever the result may be come Sunday, whether it ends with another Borg-Warner Trophy or not, Kanaan noted that he will be happy with the outcome. No matter what, he’s getting to ride off into the sunset in his own way.

“It’s a race to win,” Kanaan said. “But for me, I would say I’m taking it, whatever the result will be, it won’t impact the outcome of my journey and thanking the fans and my team and everybody that came with me through this. Anybody that was part of my career.

“Obviously, it would be nice to have a good result to celebrate on top of that. But that’s not gonna overshadow when I get out of that car. Either we finish the race or we don’t, either we win or we don’t. The reaction is gonna be the same.”

Since this is really his final ride at Indianapolis, Kanaan ended by putting the field on notice for Sunday. It’s take no prisoners out there once the green flag drops.

“Like it’s the the last race of my life. I’m gonna leave it all out there,” Kanaan said of his mentality once the helmet goes on.

“If the opportunity is there, we’ll do a Tony Kanaan start for sure. But yeah, I’m racing like I have no friends. I’ll apologize later.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.