FORT WORTH, Texas – Tony Kanaan knows he wasn’t very popular among many of his fellow IndyCar Series drivers after his runner-up finish in Texas last year.
Kanaan got blamed by drivers and penalized by IndyCar after he ignited a car-crushing, spark-spraying chain reaction involving nine cars that led to a 31-minute red flag. He was able to drive away on the repaved and reconfigured 1 1/2-mile oval, recovered from the penalty for avoidable contact and finished second behind Will Power when the race ended under caution after another crash.
“I think what I learned is they changed the track and we had the same type of racing,” said Kanaan, who qualified sixth for Saturday night’s race. “Texas is always going to be a close racing track.”
A year after only nine of the 22 cars that started were listed as running at the end, and only six completed all 248 laps, IndyCar has new sleeker cars with a universal aero package that could change things at Texas in the first night race of the season.
“The biggest thing IndyCar has decided not to have pack racing here for the safety of the drivers, and for the good of the series,” Simon Pagenaud said after qualifying second on Friday. “The cars are pretty good, they drive well, and you just have to adapt to it really, because at the end of the day we all have the same thing.”
While everybody has the same thing, Team Penske took the top three starting with the only 220-mph qualifiers. Defending series champion Josef Newgarden earned his fourth career pole – his first at Texas, and eighth for Penske at the track. Newgarden had a two-lap average of 220.613 mph, with Pagenaud at 220.311 mph and Indianapolis 500 winner Power at 220.194 mph.
Kanaan, the 2004 series champ, has run 58 races since the last of his 17 victories in the 2014 season finale. He is now racing for A.J. Foyt, the Texan whose team hasn’t won a race since 2013.
Maybe Texas can change the fortunes for both Kanaan and Foyt.
“Trying to look for a good result, this is one of the places that I look forward to,” Kanaan said
This will be Kanaan’s 19th start at Texas, where his average finish of 5.16 is a track record. His 11 top-five finishes and 15 top 10s are equal with Helio Castroneves for the most there. Kanaan has finished second twice, third twice and sixth in his last five TMS races.
It will be Kanaan’s 292nd consecutive start, extending his IndyCar record that started in 2001. That is 59 more than former teammate Dixon, whose win at Detroit last weekend was the 42nd in his career to match Michael Andretti for the third-most in open-wheel racing behind Foyt (67) and Mario Andretti (52).
Kanaan was with Dixon at Chip Ganassi Racing before that team cut back to two full-time entries this season – Kanaan and Ed Jones, last year’s top rookie.
“For a lot of us the biggest difference has been how quiet it is without Tony Kanaan,” Dixon said with a smile.
Owner-driver Ed Carpenter had both of his cars taken out in the Kanaan incident last June, but said there was more that happened than Kanaan moving up the track and making contact with another car. Carpenter said he has spoken with IndyCar officials about that.
“I think we need exciting racing like that race was, where it gets a little out of control sometimes,” Carpenter said. “I think, in my opinion, if IndyCar race control would have called some blocking penalties before that, because there’s a lot of blocking going on, I think it would have eliminated some of those lapses in judgment and make guys think about how they’re throwing their cars around.”
When asked if incidents like Kanaan was involved in with last year at Texas are forgotten, Dixon responded that they usually are until getting back to that same place.
“When you’re out of the car everybody kind of understands what’s going on, but once you get into the heat of the battle, all of that stuff really goes out the window, and everybody’s just trying to get to the front,” Dixon said. “So it can make for some pretty crazy racing.”
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