NEWTON, Iowa (AP) — After the first two months of the IndyCar season were derailed by the coronavirus, former champion Tony Kanaan finally began his abbreviated swansong to the open-wheel racing series at Texas the first weekend of June.
Then he sat for two more weeks.
Kanaan had carved out a schedule that would allow him to split seat time with rookie Dalton Kellett while allowing him to compete at some of his favorite tracks. But the schedule didn't include the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway or last weekend's double-header at Road America in Wisconsin, so Kanaan found himself pining for something to do.
“I did it all. I tried everything,” said Kanaan, who is back in the car for A.J. Foyt Racing for the doubleheader at Iowa that began Friday night. “The first weekend, the first day I went to the pool with the kids and I tried to stay in the pool, but I couldn't help getting out of the pool to watch the scoreboard, and that was during qualifying.”
Then, almost sheepishly, Kanaan added: “And then I ended up watching the race.”
Kanaan was a bit busier last week as he competed in a 24-hour virtual race that his team wound up winning. And while much to his surprise Kanaan has found himself enjoying online competition, he acknowledged that getting back into the seat — even with a heat index approaching triple digits at the track just outside Des Moines — was more to his liking.
“I sat away two weekends in a row suffering,” said Kanaan, who was among the 10 fastest in practice Friday leading into qualifying for both races. “Iowa is a good track for me. We've had a lot of success there in the past.”
There are about 5,000 fans expected for each race, and that gives Kanaan another lift. He had grand plans to celebrate what he's calling his “last lap” with fans along the way, but the pandemic has forced his team to cancel most of them.
He still plans to race the Indianapolis 500 in future years, and he may add a couple races to the schedule if he secures enough sponsorship and they appeal to him. But despite the scheduling headaches and unique nature of the season, Kanaan said he has no plans to push back his final season to next year, when he might be able to enjoy it more.
“Every race that I finish this year, in my head it's one less," Kanaan said. “Although I can tell you I'm prepared — that was my decision — it's never easy. I've been doing this for 23 years. This is all I've done. So I'm kind of spoiled in a way.”
The two Iowa races are part of a busy weekend for Roger Penske's organization. The Captain has 13 drivers competing in eight races in five series around the world. Josef Newgard, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power will run the IndyCar races, and Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Austin Cindric will compete in NASCAR races at Texas. The team also will compete in the IMSA race at Sebring and the Supercars race in Sydney, Australia.
“We had such an awesome race there last year,” Newgarden said of the 7/8-mile oval at Iowa. "It’s just one of those places that tend to fit my driving style, so I always feel great racing there.”
Hundreds of campers were already packed in the grounds surrounding Iowa Speedway by early afternoon, when IndyCar hit the track for the first of its practice sessions. Every fan exiting off Interstate 80 on their way to the track was required to answer some brief health questions and have their temperatures checked.
“The more experience, the better we get," IndyCar chief executive Mark Miles said. “There's so many ways to think about it, but we have to take care of the competitors, the paddock, the crews, the media, the broadcast talent — everybody that's a part of making IndyCar, and they're all doing great. I think they have the right attitude.”
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports