For a long time the 45-year-old Brazilian has been a crowd favorite, emanating from his consistently poor luck at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before finally nailing victory in the Indy 500 with KV Racing in 2013. Subsequently he has still raised some of the biggest cheers during driver introductions to raceday crowds, so when the COVID-19 pandemic caused spectators to be banned from several events and restricted in number to others, it meant Kanaan’s opportunities to interact with fans during his oval-only program in 2020 was heavily reduced.
Therefore, having announced preseason that 2020 would be the last time he competed at any IndyCar race except the Indy 500, mentally he has now modified his intentions. For 2021, he said, his ideal scenario would see him on track for all oval races again.
“I have to be realistic, right?” Kanaan told media on Sunday evening. “For my liking, I think it's not fair that I would go out this way. It's not fair for my fans. It's not fair for me. But it's easier said than done.
“Today I approached the race as if it was my last race. I have nothing for next year. I have no sponsor. I have no team. Everybody that was involved with me knew about my decision. Obviously I changed my mind.
“It's going to be a challenge. It's going to be a challenge to try to see if I can put something together to do the same what I did this year. I can assure you, I'm not coming back a full season, that's for sure. If I can put a deal together to do the five ovals again, that's what I'm going to work on. As of now, I'm done.”
Kanaan drove his A.J. Foyt Racing-Chevrolet to ninth on Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway, but was a subdued 19th in Sunday’s event, struggling with understeer throughout.
“Yesterday was actually a pretty decent result for us,” he said. “Today was a bit frustrating. I think with the way the race went, I think everybody has some room to complain. It was honestly quite a boring race, this one.
“I had a pretty good day yesterday, so it's nice to see some fans in the stands supporting us. Not the way I want to end my last race, but it is what it is.”
Asked about his prospects of landing a drive in 2021, the 2004 IndyCar champion said: “I have not talked to any teams yet. I actually went back to my sponsors. We set up some meetings for this week. I think the best approach was going to be, ‘Let's see what kind of money I can raise, then I can go talk to the teams’.
“Obviously a lot of people have heard what I'm doing. My boss actually approached me to talk this weekend. Things are going to develop pretty quick. I think all my sponsors are onboard as far as wanting to talk to see what extent they can do something, if they can do something.
“I would say I'm not going to wait till the end of the season. The next two weeks I probably will know something, then we'll start talking. But we'll see. It's going to be really hard.
“I think after 23 years I feel pretty fortunate to be able to do this. It was my 384th start in IndyCar… I had a good run. I made good friends. I appreciate just to be part of it. If I'm able to move forward, fine. If not, it is what it is. I had a good run.”
Kanaan, who has scored 17 wins and 14 pole positions over his 23-year CART/IndyCar career after winning the 1997 Indy Lights title, said: “I want to thank my fans, my team and everyone who has been involved in this journey…My family. It’s been good.
“I’m done for this year but hopefully not done totally but we’ll see. My fingers are crossed that maybe I could come back for a proper last lap with my fans but for now, drop the mic.”
AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt commented, “It was emotional near the start as the team thanked Tony and sent him off for what may be his last race in IndyCar. I hope it isn’t, but we will see. I have enjoyed being a part of his career and whatever his future holds, I wish him all the best and much success.”