If you have a question about open-wheel racing, send it to MillersMailbag@Racer.com. We can't guarantee your letter will be published, but Robin will always reply.
Q: This Tony Kanaan business is lame. As a fan of open-wheel, I'm tired of a far less interesting series getting the talent. NASCAR has really set itself up to be one of the dullest series on the planet. To see them be rewarded for the mistakes of 1996 again and again is getting old. At some point people are going to stop going to races, at some point people are going to stop tuning in (some already have). The racing is crap, and the people in charge of that series make the worst years of the IRL (prior to semi-reunification in 2002) look like CART back in its heyday.
I hope TK doesn't take the offer, and why should he? If you remove the money from the equation (by far the largest factor in all of this) is it a good move? I'd say no. Outside of Tony Stewart there's really yet to be any driver with a Formula 1/IndyCar background with any really long term success in the series, short term being only LEGENDS like Foyt and Mario. Someone give the man a ride. The guy is literally intertwined with Indy, as is Dario, Helio, and the late (great) Dan Wheldon. The word "NASCAR" should be the last thing that crosses this guy's mind. Let's hope Michael, Chip or Jimmy comes through.
Not So Mid-Ohio
RM: By far the prevalent sentiment from IndyCar fans to Kanaan is: “please don't go” but who can blame him for listening to what Joe Gibbs had to offer? At 38, it would be a difficult transition to be sure and TK doesn't want to leave IndyCar. I don't think he will either.
Q: Maybe it's time to hang it up. I've been an avid fan of Indy car, Formula 5000 and Grand Prix going back nearly 50 years. It is getting very discouraging watching our stars fade into obscurity or go off to NASCAR. The article about Tony Kanaan is just the latest kick in the teeth. We also see our favorite Open Wheel tracks get the short shrift in favor of contrived, artificial street circuits. Toronto, Long Beach and Houston provide no vistas like you get at Watkins Glen or Road America. Ovals like Phoenix and Trenton provided the excitement that drew traditional Indy car fans regardless of who sanctioned the race. Maybe it is time to try to get the traditional fans back in the house and forget the sunny day fans who go for "a happening" rather than great racing at a great permanent track. Or maybe it's time for the fat lady to sing.
RM: It would be a kick in the teeth if Kanaan left for stock cars but don't jump to conclusions. My story said he went and met with Gibbs about a possible ride – not that he signed or is going to sign. I'm afraid the sunny day fans outnumber the oval track diehards (except for Indianapolis).
Q: How can one of the most popular drivers in IndyCar who is a season champion and the reigning Indy 500 champion NOT be a commodity for teams to want to hire without having to bring money? From your report it looks like Joe Gibbs Racing is willing to give him a ride with no need to bring funding. That's a pretty sad state of affairs if you ask me. Along those lines, to me it does not seem like IndyCar, the teams, the team sponsors, and event sponsors are going out of their way to promote the drivers, the brands, and the racing. I've seen more ads with Tony Stewart, Jenson Button, Little E, Kyle Busch, and NASCAR personalities versus IndyCar.
Tell me the last time you saw Dario or Dixon in a Target commercial, RHR in a SunDrop ad, or even TK for Sunoco. The only promotional ads that I can remember seeing drivers in are all on TV: Hinch in GoDaddy commercials; the IZOD commercial three years ago that had drivers in it; Charlie Kimball in a Novo Nordisk commercial; and James Jakes in an Acorn Stairlifts commercial. I don't think I've seen a printed ad with anyone.
RM: Kanaan's situation is more about the financial reality of IndyCar than anything else and, of course it's sad and unfair but the lack of TV viewers impacts sponsorship and, in turn, a team's ability to hire. The lack of big-time sponsors is also why there's such a void of TV commercials with drivers.
Q: What is it with Cup teams constantly trying to poach IndyCar drivers? It's not like they don't have enough of their own talent at lower levels just itching to move up. If I were a driver trying to break in to Nationwide or Sprint Cup I'd be pissed at this sort of thing.
RM: Well let's be honest: Ganassi gave Dario and Montoya their chances, Allmendinger's departure was orchestrated by Red Bull (with a start-up team) and Penske had Hornish change seats so it's not like there's a big bidding war among the elite NASCAR teams for Indy drivers. And TK hasn't done anything but fly to Charlotte and listen.
Q: I understand that the NASCAR money would make a move attractive and TK is a great driver, but what does he bring that's attractive to Gibbs? He'll not bring lots of sponsor money; if he could, he would stay in IndyCar. He's not going to bring millions of fans; he's popular, but IndyCar does not have that type of fan base. Recent IndyCar drivers have not become proven winners in NASCAR – look at Dario, Danica, Montoya, Allmendinger, Villeneuve, Papis, Hornish, Casey Mears and others. Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon got their starts in open wheel, but that was years ago and they made the move to NASCAR at a much younger age. What does TK bring to Gibbs that a proven NASCAR driver does not?
John in Charleston
RM: That's a good question but I imagine they like Kanaan's drive and aggression. Or is it the fact they'd be stealing the Indianapolis 500 winner? But you are right in the regard that it's difficult to understand the interest in a 38-year-old who has never driven a stock car (except for The Prelude at Eldora).
Q: What is your opinion about Tony Kanaan leaving IndyCar? Also I loved your video on RACER.com about IMS road course. I am wondering if the drivers were towing the company line about using the road course at IMS?
RM: My opinion is that it would be a big blow to lose TK to NASCAR but I don't think he's going to leave. I think he's exploring options and was flattered that Gibbs wanted to talk to him about a possible ride. I think Rahal and Briscoe were being good soldiers.
Q: While I felt Baltimore had some good racing with some nice passing, I also witnessed a lot of "beginner" mistakes. Is this due to a narrow track or just narrow-minded drivers? As for the Dixon/Power debacle, I almost fell off the couch when I saw that. For as experienced as Will is, you would think that if he is going to make an aggressive move like that, that he would also take into consideration the field behind him, especially a Ganassi car. Do you think he will be put on probation for that? Finally, what are the chances of IndyCar coming back to Chicago?
Jason Guralnick, Chicago, Ill.
RM: I think any time you put 230mph, spec Indy cars on a tight street circuit there is going to be some contact. Power admitted his mistake and I don't think it was intentional. Chicagoland? Maybe 50/50 at best, Joliet didn't draw many people the last few years of IRL.