MADISON, Ill – Pit strategy and the help of a fluke caution got Tony Kanaan a finish he’s so desperately been searching for since he joined AJ Foyt Racing in 2018. See, Kanaan came to the organization to help them become a contender again. Unfortunately, his near two year tenure at the helm hasn’t produced the results that they’ve desired.
It’s not for a lack of effort though. Kanaan, has been giving it his all. It’s just this team hasn’t been firing on all cylinders to get this thing turned around. Heading into this weekend at the World Wide Technology Raceway, Kanaan had yet to score a top five in 31 starts in the No. 14 Chevrolet. His best finishes have been on ovals as he’s had eight top 10’s in those same 31 races with five of them being scored on ovals including all four in 2019.
Then came Saturday night.
Kanaan, was frustrated with their starting position. That was a byproduct of their standing in the points as they went out in reverse order. Due to oil leaked by a vintage car just prior to qualifying, the 1.25-mile track was slick in Turns 1 and 2. The early cars out had to deal with it more than the later ones. Kanaan, started 20th as a result for the fifth time in the last seven races that he’s started 20th or worse.
It didn’t take him long to move up though.
“Qualifying yesterday was kind of weird,” said Kanaan. “We had a bunch of oil dry on the track. The way we qualify nowadays is by championship points. I was the fourth car out.
“We got loose. The car wasn’t very good. It was very frustrating. In the night session, the car was pretty decent. I was pretty happy. But I knew that track position was going to be everything.
“I had a pretty good start, passed six cars on the start. Put ourselves in the top 13. I said, All right, let’s start racing from now on. Obviously we got a break. Once we got to the front, we were pretty strong.”
Kanaan, put himself in position then stayed out on a longer second to last stint and was helped by Sebastien Bourdais crashing late in the race to bring out the fifth and final caution. Due to himself, Takuma Sato and Ed Carpenter staying out so long, they pinned everyone minus Josef Newgarden a lap down. That allowed them to pit under caution and remain in the top four.
Kanaan, restarted the race second and fell to third with two to go when Carpenter got by him for second.
“Yeah, (Takuma) Sato got a run on me on the restart,” Kanaan said of the end of the race battle for the win. “I think when he took off, obviously he was behind, people know how I restart, he got a little bit of an edge. After that I had to measure and decide what I wanted to do. Do I need to attack? Did I have anything to attack? If I was going to keep it in the podium, which is a great result for us…
“Once he took off and opened a little bit of a lead, I said, I’m going to sit here and see what happens. I was waiting for him to hit traffic. Unfortunately when we all hit traffic, we all got in trouble. I got a little bit loose. Ed got me. It was one of those things.
“I think we were strong. We had a great strategy. The Chevy and the fuel mileage we had, very, very good fuel mileage that actually got us to the point that we got lucky with that yellow.
“Once we had the track position, the car was fast and we were able to perform.”
For Kanaan, it was his first podium since 2017 (Texas) and second straight top 10 finish as he now heads to the final two races of the season.
“Yeah, great result for us, great weekend,” Kanaan continued. “Overcoming a lot of adversities throughout the year. We’ve been hearing a lot of things, good things and bad things, some support, some people thinking we shouldn’t be doing this.
“This is a great night for us. It paid off. When I joined A.J. Foyt Racing, it was to make this team better. We’ve been struggling quite a bit. This is a great night for us.
“The boys did a great job. Now it proves it’s making us stronger, definitely. A result like this, it’s a huge boost for everybody. So happy.”