Indy 500: Tony Kanaan addresses 2024 return possibility

Tony Kanaan, Arrow McLaren, Indy 500, IndyCar (Photo Credit: The Indianapolis Star)
Tony Kanaan, Arrow McLaren, Indy 500, IndyCar (Photo Credit: The Indianapolis Star) /

Tony Kanaan knows that there will be questions about his Indy 500 future after this year’s race, especially if he wins the 107th running of the race.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fan-favorite and IndyCar champion Tony Kanaan has made 21 career starts in the Indy 500 going back to his 2002 debut with Mo Nunn Racing, and he is set to make what has been billed as his 22nd and final start in the 107th running of the race on Memorial Day Sunday.

Kanaan is set to compete for his sixth different team in this year’s running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, driving the No. 66 Chevrolet for Arrow McLaren, a car that was added just for this race.

The 48-year-old Brazilian, who won the race in 2013 with KV Racing Technology, plans to remain active in IndyCar when he retires from driving.

But he readily admits that this is officially the final “TK Last Lap” tour, after his initial plans to retire after 2020 were pushed aside — multiple times.

“Look, I actually was ready to retire, and then COVID hit,” Kanaan admitted to Beyond the Flag. “Having this place with no fans, I think it wouldn’t have done justice to them. I think this place made me. So I decided to come back [in 2021], and obviously the opportunity with Jimmie Johnson was one I couldn’t pass up with the team that we had.”

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson joined Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021 as the driver of the No. 48 Honda in the road and street course races, opening the door for Kanaan to reunite with one of his old organizations for the oval races, including the Indy 500.

“And then last year I was fine; I thought it was over,” he continued. “I thought, I didn’t announce anything because people were making fun of me! And then [McLaren CEO] Zak [Brown] called I mean, and if you talk about Zak, our friendship, we go back to 1993, we were teammates, McLaren, my ties with [Ayrton] Senna; when you talk about McLaren and Formula 1 and Senna, I mean, it was always a team that, to me, was my dream.

“And then you look at the possibilities with the good cars that we have, so you can’t pass that up. We had a really good result last year. We almost won this race. I was like, you know what? The hell with what people are gonna think! But then this is definitely the final one.”

Kanaan finished in third place last year, between Arrow McLaren drivers Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist in second and fourth, respectively. Fifth place finisher Alexander Rossi is now with Arrow McLaren himself.

While Tony Kanaan mentioned that this is “definitely” the last one, he did touch on the possibility of a 2024 Indy 500 entry, however.

And we didn’t even have to ask.

“I know the question would be, well, what about if you win?” he continued.

It’s an interesting point to consider. On one hand, a win in his final start would be a perfect sendoff. On another, what does one leave in the tank by retiring immediately after winning?

“If I win, I’ll either drop the mic, or is Zak is gonna have a big problem,” he joked. “Because we have Kyle Larson coming for next year and I don’t think Kyle is willing to step out. But I’m fine. I mean, again, I think it’s safe to say this is the last one.”

Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, has a deal to run the Indy 500 in what is currently Kanaan’s one-off entry for Arrow McLaren in both 2024 and 2025.

Larson was ultimately selected over two-time champion Kyle Busch, who recently admitted that the door may very well be closed on potential Indy 500 opportunities.

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This year’s Indy 500 is set to be broadcast live on NBC from Indianapolis Motor Speedway starting at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, May 28. Begin a free trial of FuboTV and don’t miss it!