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Friday, October 29, 2010

Kanaan Officially Out at Andretti

Tony Kanaan and Andretti Autosport announced today that they have agreed to conclude an eight-year relationship in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

In 131 starts with the Andretti team, Kanaan scored 14 IndyCar victories, the most recent coming at Iowa this year. Over that eight year span, Kanaan and Andretti never finished worse than sixth in the season standings, owing to by 102 top 10 finishes and only 18 DNFs.

Their best year together came in 2004, as the pairing won the title. That year, Kanaan won three of the 16 races on the schedule, and scored top five finishes in all but one of the other events (the season opening Homestead race, where he finished eighth).

2007 was another high watermark year in Kanaan's tenure with Andretti, as the pairing scored five victories, more than any other team in the series. Kanaan finished third in the championship standings that year, behind teammate Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon.

Kanaan remained loyal to Andretti and sponsor 7-Eleven in late 2008, when he spurned Chip Ganassi Racing to remain the driver of the No. 11 for Michael Andretti. Instead, Franchitti, returning from a rough time in NASCAR, took over the second Ganassi car and has won the past two championships.

Meanwhile, things had been rocky at Andretti the past two years, especially for Kanaan. He has had difficulty working with teammates Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti, with issues dating back to 2008. Team owner Michael Andretti has often compared running his team to babysitting feuding children.

This year, Kanaan and Patrick did not get along so well, with the climax coming in a heated battle for second place in the closing laps of this year's finale at Homestead. Patrick won the battle, and then the war - 7-Eleven announced they would be scaling back their IndyCar commitment and moving to Patrick's car as a major associate sponsor, leaving Kanaan without a ride.

Fans have made motions to help, and Kanaan worked to promote for the Mars candy corporation as he drove a Pretzel M&M's-sponsored two-seater at Atlanta Motor Speedway earlier this month, but no sponsors stepped up.

Thus, the second longest-tenured driver and team combo in the sport, behind only Helio Castroneves and Team Penske, has decided to call it quits.

Kanaan's options are plentiful, however. Few drivers are able to win consistently in IndyCar, and Kanaan is one of them. He's one of the most coveted free agent drivers in years, so he's been rumored to join just about every team in the garage that could use a veteran driver to take them to the next level.

KV Racing Technology is looking for a driver that won't tear up equipment; de Ferran Dragon Racing, led by Kanaan's countryman Gil de Ferran, is looking for somebody to mentor Raphael Matos and take him to the next level; Dreyer & Reinbold Racing may be looking to replace Justin Wilson if he departs. All are strong possibilities for Kanaan in 2011 and beyond.

Andretti, meanwhile, will likely let the No. 11 fade away unless a talented pay driver shows up with major sponsorship money. Graham Rahal, one of the few drivers that fits that bill right now, looks poised to join Ganassi in a third car, and few other options have been suggested. It's more likely that Andretti will shrink to a three-car stable, with Patrick, Marco Andretti, and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

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