Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan decided the risk wasn’t worth the reward, and by that he meant a disappointing finish in this year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, which is possible given the strength of the field and the luck involved in a 500-mile race, might not afford him the chance to retire as an NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver on his terms.

Therefore, the ironman of the sport and 2013 “500” winner mustered the strength to say enough is enough. At age 48, Kanaan announced Wednesday he will compete for the 22nd and final time in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” to end his INDYCAR SERIES career at 390 races, second only to Mario Andretti’s 407.

Kanaan broke the news with a morning social media post confirming his final ride will be in the Sunday, May 28 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He will drive the No. 66 SmartStop Arrow McLaren Racing Chevrolet.

“You’re never ready for this,” said Kanaan, who holds the sport’s record with 318 consecutive starts. “But you’ve got to weigh your options. I went from a full-time (driver in 2019) to part time (in the years since). You’re 48; you’ve had a great career.

“As much as you don’t want to go, it’s there. If you’re smart, you make the right decisions at the right time. I came to this sport to win everything I could and to do the best I could. I would hate to be coming to (IMS) just to participate. So, you weigh your opportunities.

“Last year was a really good one.”

Kanaan qualified sixth, led six laps and finished third in a car fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing, and he said the performance confirmed to the paddock that he is still capable of winning another “500.” The CGR staff showed interest in bringing him back for this year’s race, but a deal couldn’t be worked out due to Jimmie Johnson’s shared ride going away. Then, out of the blue, came a WhatsApp text from Arrow McLaren Racing boss Zak Brown.

Kanaan said he and Brown had previously talked about a possible partnership, but the timing hadn’t been right. Apparently, it was now.

“I’m ready,” Brown wrote.

“Me, too,” Kanaan replied.

“Do we have a deal?” Brown followed.

“I said, ‘Yes,’ and that was it,” Kanaan said. “We didn’t discuss anything else. He sent me the (contract), I signed it, sent it back. It was very simple.

“But yeah, if it wasn’t for (finishing third last year), I don’t think I would be here today saying I’m racing my last one (in May). I’d probably be here doing something else.”

Kanaan will drive in a stout Arrow McLaren lineup featuring 2016 Indy winner Alexander Rossi, who is new to the team, and returnees Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, who finished second and fourth in last year’s “500.” Rossi finished fifth for Andretti Autosport, giving Brown’s team four of the top five finishers.

“The two teams that dominated (last year) were the one that I was in (CGR) and the one that was (inquiring),” Kanaan said. “So, you can’t refuse that.”

Kanaan said Steve Horne, the Australian car owner who brought boyhood friends Kanaan and Castroneves to the U.S. in 1996 to be Indy Lights teammates, vowed to attend the May 28 race to support Kanaan. Castroneves is scheduled to compete in his 23rd “500,” again in the No. 06 Honda of Meyer Shank Racing, in which he earned his fourth “500” victory in 2021.

Kanaan also noted the significance of driving for the team that Ayrton Senna, his hero, won three Formula One championships with. It was Senna who helped Kanaan get his first ride in Europe in 1993. And Kanaan will drive No. 66, which has tremendous McLaren heritage. Mark Donohue used it to give the manufacturer its first Indy win in 1972 with Penske Racing.

“When Zak told me the story (of) the number, it’s just perfect,” said Kanaan, who used Nos. 6 and 66 in his first karting season in Brazil. “That’s what we’re rocking on. I love it. I can’t wait.”

Kanaan will be remembered as one of the best oval drivers of his generation, particularly at IMS. His collection of performances at this track compares favorably with other drivers of his generation, including fellow “500” winners Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon.

Kanaan is tied with Dixon for the most “500s” led in a career with 15, and his laps-led total ranks 14th in Indy’s history. Kanaan led the race in his first seven starts, also a record.

While Castroneves has always been Kanaan’s measuring stick since their karting days in Brazil and has more “500” victories – four to one – it is Kanaan who has led more laps at Indy, 352 to 325. Castroneves’ total ranks 18th.

Kanaan has won 17 races since joining the INDYCAR SERIES in 2001 and 15 of them have been on oval tracks. Ten of his 13 poles, including at Indy in 2005, have come on ovals, too. Regardless of what happens in the May 28 race, he will have bookend 500-mile victories as he won his first series race in the 1999 Michigan 500.

Another example of Kanaan’s consistency is he has won poles in eight seasons, and he has finished in the top three at Indy in three different decades (2003, 2012 and 2022) while driving for six different teams (Mo Nunn Racing, Andretti Autosport, KV Racing Technology, Chip Ganassi Racing, AJ Foyt Racing and this year Arrow McLaren Racing). He has earned 11 starts in the “500” from the first two rows, including in his first eight races at IMS.

In addition to consistently being at the front of the competitive INDYCAR SERIES fields, Kanaan has been tenacious in his driving, particularly on restarts. The start of the 2010 “500” is an example of how fast he has gotten up to speed in his career, passing five cars on the outside – another on the inside – in the race’s first two corners after starting last.

“Green, to me, has always meant go,” he said.

Kanaan, who is married with four children, will remain a race car driver, helmet in hand just in case. He already has 19 combined races lined up for Brazil’s stock car series and Tony Stewart’s SRX Racing championship.

Kanaan said he could still do the “500” if a knockout offer comes, but he knows the odds are extremely slim given the stacked lineups – and contracts in place – for the top teams.

And with retirement from this series confirmed, Kanaan need not worry about how his finish in this year’s “500” impacts what’s ahead for him.

“No, I’m not ready (to retire), but it’s not a sad story, it’s a really cool one,” he said. “I think even if I win (the 107th Running), it will be a good way to go home.”