IndyCar can't afford to lose it's most popular driver. But they can't afford to keep him either.
Despite winning the Indianapolis 500 this year, a championship nine years ago, finishing in the top ten in points eleven of the past twelve seasons and being the most popular and one of the most respected driver on the IndyCar grid, Tony Kanaan's struggles to find funding for a ride in 2014 might push him to NASCAR. Racer Magazine's Robin Miller reported earlier today Kanaan has met with Joe Gibbs Racing and has been offered a Nationwide Series ride for the 2014 season. A later report from Lee Spencer of Fox Sports said Kanaan only met with the team and no offer has been made.
Before anyone crucifies him, Kanaan cannot and is not making money in IndyCar. Let me put it to you this way, you love your job. You've been their for years. You've busted your tail, been given praise after praise, have never done a thing wrong, no one has anything negative to say about you, you been through thick and thin with the company but despite the time, praise and effort you have given, you are not getting a raise, not even of the smallest amount, you are being looked over for promotions and you know there is another company or two or three out there who is offering exactly what you want. That is the situation Kanaan is in. He is driving in a series where he has given his all and not being compensated enough for it. And now he is getting offered a paying job.
Regardless of what Kanaan decides to do, IndyCar is to blame for the current state of the series and leading Kanaan to look elsewhere to race. There is not a lot of money for the drivers. How many paying rides are on the grid? Penske's two, Ganassi's two, maybe Kimball gets a little but if Novo Nordisk leaves he probably doesn't get a season of Ganassi paying out of his own pocket to see if a sponsor can be found. The Andretti trio probably get paid, maybe Simon Pagenaud. Tristan Vautier is living off his Indy Lights championship and scraping together the rest. Panther is a paying gig. Graham Rahal probably doesn't bring money but James Jakes sure does.
After that, who else isn't bringing a sponsor? Foyt paid Conor Daly for Indianapolis and I wouldn't be surprised if Takuma Sato is getting paid. Ed Carpenter drives for himself. So I guess he isn't paying for a ride but at the same time he is. Wink Hartman has really help Sarah Fisher and Josef Newgarden out the past year but I wouldn't count that as getting paid for Newgarden.
Bryan Herta Autosport, Dragon, Dale Coyne and KV all have some funding but all appear to need a driver to bring some change to the table, some needing to bring more than others. So I'd say eleven out of twenty-four full-time teams pay their drivers a salary and even then I think that might be optimistically high on my part. It's musically chairs and Kanaan is not in one of the paying seats.
IndyCar has for years found a way time and time again to make the sport undesirable for sponsors and driving away needed revenue. Whether it's going to a cable network that automatically cut their ratings by two-thirds, swapping venues like they're fresh pairs of underwear, having a contract for a race in China and not getting paid up front and then having the deal ripped up with no repercussions to the party bailing out. Having an engine manufacture that never had the money to run in the series and screwed a quarter of the grid, need I go any further?
I understand IndyCar over the pass few years aren't interested in paying to keep drivers on the grid. I get that, but at the same time, maybe they should reconsider.
Or... actually... maybe they shouldn't because they know, regardless of whether Kanaan is on the IndyCar grid or not in 2014, they are still a financial mess and keeping him won't fix their problems. I love Tony Kanaan but let's face it, keeping him isn't going to all of a sudden increase TV ratings ten-fold (which by the way, is probably the amount IndyCar has to increase to become even reasonable for a sponsor to spend money on), keeping Kanaan wouldn't double attendance at every event or bring back Road America, Michigan, Phoenix, Loudon, Surfers Paradise, Richmond and Watkins Glen and add new venues such as Austin and a race in Europe to the schedule. All keeping Kanaan does is keep the small and probably still declining IndyCar fan base happy just a little while longer. He is a band-aid that is slowing the bleeding on a much larger wound.
IndyCar needs to be making moves that draws eyes, sponsors and drivers to the series, while keeping their top crop of talent and product they already have got. And time and time again, the series and those involved have failed to row together and the ship that is IndyCar has been stagnant for YEARS!
IndyCar is not a destination. That's why Kanaan is looking to NASCAR and Sam Hornish and AJ Allmendinger aren't looking to return full-time and why Rubens Barrichello left after one year and it was probably never even close to Mark Webber's mind when he decided Porsche LMP1 over Formula One. IndyCar as a series cannot offer these drivers a way to make a living, therefore, these drivers do not consider the series. IndyCar has to improve this more than anything else if they hope to survive.
And before any NASCAR fans start declaring Kanaan is considering NASCAR because its better racing are full of it. This is all about money. IndyCar can be put in the discussion for producing some of the best racing in the world today. Unfortunately and kind of unbelievingly, all that great racing is not enough to be an option financially for a driver, not even one of the best of the last twenty years.
In a way, I want to see Kanaan go to NASCAR. For me to be fair, if I go tweeting Kurt Busch should run the Indianapolis 500 because he's interested in doing it, has already won the Coca-Cola 600 and saying drivers should actually do the races they say they want to do, then I should say Kanaan should go to NASCAR because he's won an Indianapolis 500, has a IndyCar championship and has interest in NASCAR. Kanaan could go to NASCAR but still have a clause to return to run the Indianapolis 500, though it'd be unpopular with most teams, let alone Joe Gibbs Racing and tough to negotiate. My problem isn't a driver leaving a series for another. It's them leaving and not having any interest in returning. I am ok with Sam Hornish, Jr. racing NASCAR, it's him not interested in returning at all that's bothersome. It's acting like something is in your past once and for all when it doesn't have to be. What happens when Hornish is retired and invited back to the Speedway as a former Indianapolis 500 winner? Does he say no, that's all in my past and not go? I don't think he would and doubt he would but why should that be any different for him as a driver?
Kanaan going to NASCAR would open the door to three legitimate drivers who could attempt the double in 2014. Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger are still interested, though both are contractually tied to NASCAR teams for next year. Let's not to forget Danica Patrick. Though she is less likely to do so and Sam Hornish is even less likely than Patrick. And, who knows, Juan Pablo Montoya might return to IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 in 2014. Might not be a bad race after all.
To wrap this up, IndyCar has to improve the financial situation of it's teams and the series. And Kanaan, do what makes you happy. No one should get on your case for doing that.