NEWTON, Iowa – When the second race in the Iowa INDYCAR 250s is completed Saturday night, 2004 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan will be past the halfway point of the “TK Last Lap.”
Although Kanaan, the popular driver from Brazil, is not “retiring” from racing, this is his final season of competition in INDYCAR. He hopes to compete in more Indianapolis 500s in the future, along with potentially some IMSA events and the new SRX series that is being created by Tony Stewart and Ray Evernham.
This weekend at the 7/8th-mile Iowa Speedway, Kanaan will compete in back-to-back 250-lap races. The first race of the Iowa INDYCAR 250's will take place at 8:30 p.m. (ET) Friday and telecast by NBCSN, and the second race also will be at 8:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday on NBCSN.
Kanaan, a five-time INDYCAR podium finisher at Iowa Speedway, won the 2010 race at the World's Fastest Short Track. He will race at the Iowa Speedway oval for the final time as part of his “TK Last Lap” tour.
“Every race that I finish this year, in my head it's one less, right?” Kanaan said, referring to his five-race all-oval schedule in the No. 14 Chevrolet for AJ Foyt Racing this season. “I can tell you I'm prepared. That was my decision, but it's never easy. I've been doing this for 23 years. This is all I've done.”
Kanaan’s 2020 season was supposed to be one of celebration. Although he was signed to race on ovals only, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, the popular driver from Brazil was also set to attend all races on the schedule as a representative for longtime sponsor, NTT DATA.
That was before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all professional and collegiate sports in America beginning March 13. The 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season finally began June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway and continued July 4 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway without spectators.
Last weekend’s REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR at Road America was the first time fans were allowed to attend. This weekend’s Iowa doubleheader will also have a maximum of 5,000 fans allowed to attend each night.
Kanaan raced in the season-opening Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, starting 10th and finishing 10th. It was his 318th consecutive start, an INDYCAR record that ended when he didn’t take the green flag for the GMR Grand Prix at Indy.
“It hit me when everybody went to the next race, I wasn't there, I was home on the Friday watching it,” Kanaan said. “It was kind of tough. I knew was going to be an adjustment.
“When I win, I'm going to be happy. I'm pretty sure three hours later, I'm going to be sad. If I don't win, it will be the same thing. I know it's coming. Obviously, we have still four races to go on my end. We'll take it one at a time.”
It’s only fitting that Kanaan gets two more chances in 2020 at Iowa Speedway, one of his best tracks. There was a time when the rest of the field had to beat Kanaan if they were going to win at Iowa.
Ironically, his first three races at Iowa included finishes of 16th, 18th and 14th. Starting with his victory in 2010, Kanaan finished second in 2011, third in 2012, third in 2013 and third in 2014.
He finished 10th at Iowa last year.
“It's a track you need to be aggressive,” Kanaan said. “It's an oval that has some particularities that I don't think I'm going to share here because it's some of my secrets. It's a track that we clicked right away.
“I was always competitive there. If you guys remember, if I'm right, I think I crashed the first three or four times actually leading that race or in contention to win the first three times we went there. It was like, ‘Wow, I'm good but …’
“It was like a mini Indy for me. I was always very successful, but I couldn't close the deal.
“Then we clicked.”
Kanaan hopes to click again this weekend and will get two chances to win one more race at Iowa Speedway.
“I'm pretty sure that it's going to be a good weekend for us,” Kanaan said. “I picked the tracks. I was actually extremely fortunate this year to say, ‘These are the races I want to do.’ We made it happen with a different sponsor every race, which is awesome. Iowa is one of them because I know I can be very competitive.
“For sure, it's a track that suits my style.”
Kanaan and AJ Foyt Racing announced Wednesday that Bryant Heating and Cooling will sponsor the No. 14 Chevrolet at Iowa. That company has a long history in INDYCAR racing and the Indianapolis 500, dating all the way back to 1958. It has also been one of Kanaan’s most loyal supporters throughout his career.
“They made my career last a lot longer because they are one of my biggest sponsors,” Kanaan said. “They've been with me through every team. I moved, they moved with me. It's a company that knows racing, that knows the background.”
There is a term in INDYCAR when a driver represents a particularly fearless ability to race that they “could have driven in the 1960s.”
Kanaan certainly could have driven in the 1960s, and the Bryant Heating and Cooling connection to that era makes it a perfect sponsor for this weekend’s Iowa doubleheader.
“I could have raced in the 1960s, I don't disagree,” Kanaan said. “I think I see a lot of things in my boss that I still have it today. I don't know if that's good or bad, but that's just the way we are.
“I would have loved to actually be part of those days. I know it was dangerous. A.J. tells me: ‘Tony, we'd start a season, we didn't know if we would finish the season. Not finish the season because you'd be out of the car but because you probably be not around.’
“I like the mentality, the way they used to run things. That's how A.J. and I clicked, because he's a much older school, but I'm kind of old school.”
There is nothing more “old school” than racing on Friday and Saturday nights, under the lights, at a short oval. So, it’s only fitting that the “TK Last Lap” includes two more races at Iowa Speedway.