AUSTIN, TX – Greatness. Tough. Legendary. Those are three words to best describe AJ Foyt and his racing legacy. In his storied open wheel career, Foyt has more championships than anyone else. His 67 wins rank tops all time. His 53 poles rank him third ever. His 369 starts are second best, so are his 6,621 laps led and 119 podiums. His 149 top fives also rank him third too.
He and Mario Andretti are the best there ever was.
Unfortunately, those stats haven’t transferred over to his race team. That’s why their approach has changed lately. They want to contend again.
For the first time since 2016, AJ Foyt Racing returns to the next NTT IndyCar Series season with the same two drivers as the one prior. That gives the organization despite not much success lately, high hopes for the upcoming year.
Matheus Leist isn’t a rookie anymore. His 2018 campaign saw him keep his car fairly clean. Now that the speedy driver has a year experience under his belt, they can expect more from him.
Tony Kanaan returns for his 21st season in the sport and second with the team with hopes of making Foyt a contender again. After all, that was his main goal when he signed up to drive the famed No. 14 Chevrolet for last season and beyond. He knew it would be a process but he wanted to leave the organization in a better place than he entered it.
Last year was about rebuilding and getting this team going in the right direction. He could help with setups and also mentor his young countrymate. It started to work. Now, it’s time to expand. Kanaan, said on Monday’s media availability that the team isn’t quite ready to contend for championships just yet as they’re still building for it and that 2019 will be all about the Indy 500.
AJ Foyt Racing was a turnstile for drivers. In 2016, both Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth struggled. They had no wins or top five finishes and just two total top 10’s in 16 races, both by Sato. In 2017, they switched from Honda to Chevrolet but did so late in the offseason. They also added a revamped engineering department and two new drivers. It took time to gel. Conor Daly had one top five and four top 10 finishes while Carlos Munoz had no top fives but six top 10’s. Despite an end of season surge, Foyt wanted more.
He signed Kanaan and Leist for 2019.
Kanaan, had no top fives and four top 10’s compared to Leist having a best finish of 11th. Despite 2019 actually looking worse on the stat sheet than 2018, the momentum feels different.
They haven’t won a race since Long Beach in 2013. That’s a 100 race winless streak they’ll carry into the season opener at St. Pete. Kanaan, hasn’t won since the 2014 season finale, a winless streak of 66 races.
Despite those winless streaks and Foyt having a combined one top five finish since the start of the 2016 season, it seems like they’re about to have a season surge.
They’re saying the right things. The speed is coming back. They’re leading more laps and competing again. Now all that’s needed is those results. It’s not going to happen overnight.
Now for the ‘500?
Both qualified in Row 4 last year. Kanaan, was arguably the fastest car out there until having an unscheduled pit stop around the midway marker of the race. He pressed on and was making his way to the front again but crashed.
This year, if the speed returns, they have a legitimate shot.