MOORESVILLE, N.C. – During the COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down most of America, NTT IndyCar Series driver Tony Kanaan admits he doesn’t know what day it is.
When he looked at his phone Monday, he was stunned to see that it was already June 1 and he has yet to compete in a race.
Kanaan and the other NTT IndyCar Series competitors will finally be back in action in Saturday night’s Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.
That race will be televised live on NBC at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. It will be the first time NBC has televised an IndyCar Series race in prime time.
Kanaan’s impressive career includes the 2004 IndyCar Series championship and a victory in the 2013 Indianapolis 500. This is his final season in the series, and he is driving a limited all oval schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing.
“A lot of people ask me how I coped with the delay of the season,” Kanaan said Monday afternoon. “To be honest, I was mentally prepared already because my first real race was going to be the Indianapolis 500. My mind was already set for May. I only really had to delay a couple weeks from what I was originally scheduled to do. For me, I think it wasn’t as hard as for the other guys that were already in St. Pete ready to go.
“Also a great surprise was with the unfortunate situation I’m going to get to extend my consecutive starts by one more. Hopefully I going to get to start the race first. We can’t say that before I get there. It’s a pretty cool thing. It was one other thing I was actually ready to retire once they took the green flag in St. Pete.”
Saturday will be the first time Kanaan has actually sat in an Indy car that is outfitted with the new Aeroscreen. The cockpit protection device partially encloses the cockpit and provides additional driver safety.
Kanaan was a reluctant competitor in the iRacing IndyCar Challenge, and was asked by SPEED SPORT if the realistic visuals provided in the sim racing platform will help him adapt to the new look in the cockpit in Saturday night’s race.
“Honestly I hope so because I have no idea how to answer that because I have not been in the car,” Kanaan said. “I didn’t even sit in the car in the shop. My car is not ready yet with the windscreen. I think I’m going to go to the shop tomorrow and try.
“iRacing has been, as far as the graphics, pretty good at it. Hopefully it will be the same. If it’s the same, I have plenty of seat time already.”
Kanaan has been part of some wild races at Texas Motor Speedway, ranging from the pack racing days to the three-wide going into turn three.
After a lengthy and unexpected layoff, what type of race does he expect Saturday night in the delayed IndyCar Series opener?
“I think we all going to be a little bit more on the cautious side,” Kanaan said. “I think everybody is going to try to get a rhythm, try to finish the race, try to get this one under our belt. It’s an oval, the first race. I’m hoping that’s going to be the approach.
“Talking to some of the guys, I think everybody is on the same page. You never know when the green flag drops, people have a tendency to forget and go for it.”
Texas Motor Speedway can be a wild place, and Kanaan is prepared for the challenge.
“Regardless how we had the package, how they changed the track, it was always a very challenging place for various different reasons over the years,” he said. “It used to be a pack race, then not. It was a very difficult race track on tires, extremely hard on the tires. It was a difficult race to race.
“I don’t think I can pick one particular thing to say Texas is difficult. I think it’s going to be a nerve-wracking day. We cannot even call it a weekend anymore because it’s a single-day event. Everybody has been out of the car for quite a few months. I’ve been out of the car for eight months myself. I never actually driven the car with the windscreen. It will be challenging.
“This is a challenging time. I think the race is still going to be great. It’s a fast oval. Apart from Indy, I think it’s one of the fastest we go. We’ll see.
“I’m happy to be back, though.”