TONY KANAAN will make his 369th Indy car start at Texas Motor Speedway which ties A.J. Foyt’s Indy car career total starts. We asked the 2004 INDYCAR champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner a few questions…
Q: When you started racing as a youth, did you envision your career path?
TK: “I was so young, I don’t think I thought how far I would go. To me, it was always just having the pleasure and the fun to become a professional race car driver. The way my life went after I lost Dad, I could never really have the luxury to say, Oh I want to be an Indy car driver, I want to be a NASCAR driver. I said I wanted to be a professional race car driver and make a living out of racing, and that’s how I conducted my entire career. If then I was going to be driving a sprint car or a go-kart and still be able to make a living, that’s how I envisioned my career.”
Q: Why did you decide on Indy Lights and INDYCAR?
TK: “As my career progressed, I decided I wanted to be an open wheel race car driver. I remembered watching the Indy 500 since the A.J. days, and it was always a race that I wanted to be part of so that’s why. When the opportunity was presented to me, I said, Oh this is it. That’s when I think I said, Now I’m going to do everything I can to become an Indy car driver.”
Q: How difficult was it to race on ovals in the beginning?
TK: “It was very difficult, especially the first three years. The first two years in Indy Lights helped me a lot but my first year in INDYCAR, I really, really struggled on the mile ovals. I started dead last in Milwaukee and then I struggled at Nazareth, those were the two mile ovals at the time and it was to the point where I said I have got to figure this out. If I want to be good in INDYCAR, I’ve got to be good on those ovals. If I want to be good at Indy, those tracks like Phoenix were the tracks you needed to be good at so I really focused on that. Funny enough, a lot of my wins are at Milwaukee, Richmond, Iowa so all of a sudden the mile ovals became something that I really liked.”
Q: Who did you learn from?
TK: “Steve Horne (Indy car team owner). He wasn’t even a driver but he was a good team owner and he had a lot of experience. The technique itself was just really going to the track and testing. At that time, we had the luxury to test as much as we wanted. So it was watching races, watching how people raced at the time and talking to Steve trying to understand what I needed from the car.”
Q: When did it start to click?
TK: “In 2000. At the end of 1999 with Steve, I felt like, Okay, I’m enjoying this and it started to click and get better as the years went by. By the time we got to 2003, we had a full year just on ovals and my first win was at Phoenix in INDYCAR --IRL (Indy Racing League) at the time.”
Q: What’s the most memorable race you didn’t win?
TK: “In 2005, I started dead last at Phoenix because I had an engine issue and I passed 14 cars in the first five laps. I finished third.” Note: After winning the 2003 and 2004 races at Phoenix, Kanaan started 21st and passed 11 cars on the first lap. Sam Hornish won that race and Helio Castroneves was second.
Q: Ever think about quitting?
TK: “Twice. Once when I lost my ride with 7-11 and Michael Andretti. I had a contract, and everything was all set, but things went sour, and then the other time was the year that Dan (Wheldon) died. Basically it was one year after the other because that was 2010 and 2011.”
Q: What kept you going?
TK: “Two things. Number one, the promise that I made to my dad (to not give up pursuing a racing career) but also I’m not the type of guy that quits. I’m human, I think I’m allowed to think of that (quitting) but I was trying to make a decision that I wouldn’t regret. So I think the promise I made to my dad and second of all, the love of the sport and I’m not a quitter. I would prove people wrong who thought I was done. It’s kind of a similar situation right now, we’ll prove all of them wrong eventually.”
Q: How do you feel about tying A.J. for total career starts in Indy cars?
TK: “Man, I don’t think I can put that in words because I never, and I would say this even if I wasn’t driving for him now, I don’t put myself at the same level as A.J. ever and I never will achieve that level. To me, he is so much better and above myself. I’m speechless about that. Especially that the guy drove until he was 58! I’m still trying to get my head around that.”
Q: Over 20 years in INDYCAR and you’ve seen the dark side of the sport, what do you love about it that keeps you coming back?
TK: “First of all, it’s the love of driving. I am who I am and I will never be able to copy A.J.’s quote where he says that Indianapolis made A.J. Foyt, not the other way around. It’s the same with me, I am who I am because of INDYCAR. As long as I can keep giving it back to the sport, to the fans, contributing somehow, I don’t want to stop. I love what I do.
"Over the years, you have to find a different way to motivate yourself. If you say, I’m only going to race if I can win every race, well then at some point any driver’s going to quit. I think it was the challenges that I picked. I think I’m extremely fortunate towards late in my career—I’m not calling it the end—that I got the opportunity and the biggest challenge that I’ve ever had in my 21 years in INDYCAR, which is trying to make A.J.’s team competitive again. And I won’t quit until that day comes. Or A.J. tells me to step out of his car. I’m not driving for anybody else, that I can assure you 800 percent. This partnership is going to go for as long as we both think we can do great things together.
"So tying A.J. or passing A.J. is something that not in a million years I thought I was going to be able to do in any achievement in racing because he achieved everything. So in a way, I can look back and say, Wow, I’m part of history but also, I’m part of a very select group of the greatest at some point to achieve something.”
TONY KANAAN on Texas Motor Speedway: “Texas is a good track for us, it’s one of my higher average finishes of all the tracks (nine podiums in 19 starts). We had a decent car there last year, we didn’t finish the race but we started sixth. I ran as high as fourth in the race. So I’m really looking forward to it. I really think our speedway car is decent so I’m banking on another good oval result for us.”
MATHEUS LEIST on Texas Motor Speedway: “I’m very excited for the Texas race because I actually didn’t get to race there last year. We had problems in the third lap (car caught fire) and I didn’t get to complete the race. The track is very fast and intimidating when you get there but when you get going and get used to it and you’re comfortable, it’s really fun. We will have to deal with the tire degradation in the race which was a big thing there last year. I’m looking forward to it because I think we’re going to have good fun. We’ll have a lot of people supporting us from the team – it’s our home race so I’m looking forward to having a good finish.”
Last Race: At the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader, Tony Kanaan started 21st and finished 15th in the first duel and in the second duel, he started 18th and got collected in a first lap accident (Turn 3) which eliminated him from the race (finished 22nd). In the first race, Matheus Leist started 20th and finished 21st. In the second duel, Leist started 21st and finished 20th, dropping out after 23 laps with mechanical issues.
Past Performance at Texas: Tony Kanaan won this race in 2007 after starting fourth
(career-best qualifying effort at Texas). Kanaan started on pole in 2011 which was determined by draw. In 19 races, Kanaan has finished on the podium nine times. This will be Matheus Leist’s second visit to Texas Motor Speedway but his first race there ended after just five laps when his car caught fire. AJ Foyt Racing won at Texas officially in 1998 with Billy Boat, however Foyt considers the 1997 winner to be Boat too. The record books show Arie Luyendyk as the winner due to a scoring error. AJ Foyt Racing’s best start is from the pole (in 1998 fall race) with Boat.
ABC Supply is in its 15th season as primary sponsor of A.J. Foyt’s IndyCar team, making it the longest running team sponsor in the NTT IndyCar Series. The company was founded in 1982 by Ken and Diane Hendricks with just three stores. The company now has over 700 stores and topped $10.5 billion in sales in 2018. ABC Supply began sponsoring the AJ Foyt Racing team with the 2005 Indianapolis 500. The company has leveraged its involvement by entertaining well over 110,000 associates and customers over the past 14 racing seasons. This weekend the company will entertain over 750 guests.
ABC Supply national account SRG Roofing, located in Farmers Branch, Texas, will be featured on the engine cover of the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet. Guests will receive the VIP treatment this weekend along with a Meet and Greet with Tony Kanaan.
ABC Supply local account Joe Hall Roofing, Inc., based in Arlington, Texas, won the ‘Your Name Here’ contest. The company name will be on the engine cover of the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet. Guests will receive the VIP treatment plus a Meet and Greet with Matheus Leist.
The DXC Technology 600 will be televised live on NBC Sports Network on Saturday, June 8, starting at 8:00 PM ET. Also available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. Qualifying will be broadcast on NBCSN on Friday from 6:30 to 8:00 PM ET. All of the practices are available on NBC’s INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold at https://www.nbcsports.com/gold/indycar.