As the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, a sponsor's delight, a veteran badass and most popular driver in the series, you would expect Tony Kanaan to be fielding lots of offers for 2014. And, he is, but it's certainly not how he envisions it should be.
“Right now I have not got one offer on the table that doesn't require me bringing money,” said Kanaan during a break in practice last weekend at Sonoma. “I've talked to Michael (Andretti), Bryan (Herta), Chip (Ganassi), Sam (Schmidt) and others and they all need money. And at this point in my career, I think that's a pretty sad situation.”
The 38-year-old Brazilian brought Itaipava beer and other Brazilian companies to the party to keep his seat at KV Racing the past couple seasons and co-owner Jimmy Vasser swears he's doing everything possible to keep the 2004 IndyCar champ.
“I'm still trying hard but I can't get all the commitments for sponsorship,” said Vasser. “We want to keep him and we've got all his guys with us. He wants a bump (in salary) and I don't blame him but it's tough right now.”
No limits: Kanaan in CART in 2001. (LAT archive)
In his heyday with Andretti Green, T.K. was earning $3 million in salary but those days are long gone and, without finding his own sponsors, he's probably lucky to be making $500,000. Not bad by a common man standard but pretty pathetic considering his résumé and hazards of his job.
“I'm realistic, I understand it's not like it used to be but I'm not going to risk my life for less than I made as a rookie,” he said. “I've been very reasonable the last three years and, in the biggest race we have, I've finished fourth, third and first.
“The crazy thing is that people think or say they can't afford me. Well, you've got to make me an offer before I don't want it! I wouldn't mind taking a pay cut to drive for a top team because, obviously, they give you such a good chance to succeed.”
Dario Franchitti, his longtime pal and former teammate who took the Target Ganassi ride in 2009 after Kanaan turned it down to stay loyal to Andretti, is all for a reunion.
“I haven't talked to Tony about it but I think if he came here, it would be good for him, good for our team and good for the series,” said the three-time Indy 500 winner who will be back with Ganassi for at least one more swing in 2014.
Of course the crazy thing about TK's plight is that winning Indianapolis used to be the best thing that could ever happen to a driver's career. “My life has changed because of it, but not my situation,” he stated.
IndyCar hasn't gotten involved in funding teams or drivers since the Tony George era ended, but Mark Miles and company might want to make an exception. APEX Brasil pours in millions of dollars to the series each year and, without TK in the full-time mix, one would wonder how long that would continue.
The fans spoke volumes about his popularity when they roared as he cruised under the checkered flag last May under caution. They were so happy for him they didn't seem to care the race ended at 70mph behind the pace car.
Of all the free agents available, he's clearly the most accomplished and the majority would say that this isn't how somebody of his ilk should be treated. But, unfortunately, it's the reality of IndyCar circa 2013.
“At this point of my life, if you still have to prove yourself you may have to rethink what you're doing,” said Kanaan, who passed 11 cars in the first 10 laps on Sunday before a long pit stop derailed his charge.
“I'm not at the end of my career -- I can still get it done, but I don't understand why it is so difficult to get hired after all I have accomplished.”