INDIANAPOLIS – A.J. Foyt has 67 career wins in INDYCAR, most of all-time. Unfortunately though, his team hasn’t won a race since the 2013 season. Tony Kanaan has 17 wins to his credit, including the 2013 Indianapolis 500. He hasn’t won a race since the season finale at Fontana in 2014. Those are big reasons to why both sides will join forces for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season and beyond.
On Thursday, A.J. Foyt Racing announced that Tony Kanaan will drive the No. 14 Chevrolet for the team in a multi-year deal. The relationship is all due to both of their recent struggles apart.
Foyt, grew tired of watching his team become a backmarker in the series. Kanaan, grew tired of not competing at a high level. Now, both feel like coming together is exactly what the doctor ordered for each.
“Well, I think that’s why we got together,” Kanaan said of the recent struggles between him as well as A.J. Foyt Racing. “We both needed a change. We both needed some boosts to put this team in Victory Lane, and we’re doing everything we can. We have just a great sponsor backing us with ABC that’s been with the team for 14 years, and they’re giving us every tool that they can to be able to make it happen. I think with the new car, like everybody starting from scratch, I think that’s our chance. It’s our chance to get ahead of the game with all the resources that we have and the people that we have working for us, and to put it back there. We both need it to go back to Victory Lane, and that’s why there’s a reason that we actually came together with this partnership to be able to do it.”
When Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014, replacing best friend Dario Franchitti, everyone thought it was going to be a special relationship for the two. Kanaan had the talent and the ride he was inheriting was a championship caliber one. It was the seat that everyone thought Kanaan deserved. Instead, he struggled.
In 67 starts with the team, Kanaan had just that lone victory in 2014. He also had just 20 top five finishes in that same time frame. On the flip side, Foyt has had just one victory over the last 15 years (Takuma Sato – Long Beach 2013). Really, other than Sato’s win in 2013 and Airon Dare in 2002, they haven’t won since Kenny Brack’s 1999 Indianapolis 500 triumph.
Since Sato’s win four years ago, they’ve had four top five finishes over the last four seasons. In fact, Conor Daly’s fifth place run at Gateway back in August was their only top five finish in the last two years.
That’s where Kanaan’s experience and expertise, especially with a new car coming out in 2018 came into play.
“Well, obviously he’s got a lot of experiences, which is going to really pay with this new aero kit and figuring that out quickly, but the one thing I think Tony (Kanaan) and I when we started talking about this, we looked at each other, and it’s a lot of trust between each other,” said team president Larry Foyt. “I had to know Tony is not just trying to ride out his last years, that he’s going to give 110 percent, and wants to know that we’re going to put all our resources into the race team to give him a chance to win, and that’s exactly the trust that we had to — I think when we looked each other in the eye, we both knew that this was what we wanted to do and our goals were aligned, and that’s why we think it’s going to work.
“Of course it’s wonderful to have an Indy 500 champion on your team and someone who came close to winning a couple oval races this year. I think he leads every one of them. Obviously that’s a big part, especially from our history, and the importance we hold to Indianapolis and the 500.
“But you know, we want Tony because he can and wins everywhere, so that’s the most important thing, and I think for us, just his experience of being on some bigger teams and what he can bring and just help — and obviously his enthusiasm is infectious in getting all of us motivated, and I think he’s going to be great with our sponsor, with ABC Supply. They do this for their people and bring hundreds of people to every event, and I think that’s something Tony is going to be great with, as well, so it’s just a great package all the way around.”
With all that change coming, one change coming for Kanaan personally holds a lot of pressure on him. That change is in his new car number.
“Big time,” the 20-year veteran said of pressure with driving the iconic No. 14 now. “I mean, I think out of all the numbers that I’ve driven through my career, that is definitely the one that puts a lot more pressure on me, so I’m going to have to make sure that I keep up the tradition of that number and hopefully we will do that. But we’ll definitely — I was thinking about that the other day. I mean, I can’t wait for opening day at the 500 and put the 14 car to do a lap like that, especially me driving. Having garage 1 for me, it’s like — it’s kind of cool.
“It’s one of those things that I’ve always looked around and said, AJ can do this here, AJ can do that. He basically owns the Speedway, so hopefully we’ll be able to keep the 14 where it belongs.”