Kanaan to make IndyCar season debut at Texas doubleheader

FILE - In this July 17, 2020, file photo, driver Tony Kanaan, of Brazil, stands next to his car during qualifying for an IndyCar Series auto race at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. Kanaans supposed farewell tour last year fizzled amid nearly empty tracks. Then he was given another chance to extend his IndyCar career, this time before fans. His first two races come this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
FILE - In this July 17, 2020, file photo, driver Tony Kanaan, of Brazil, stands next to his car during qualifying for an IndyCar Series auto race at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. Kanaans supposed farewell tour last year fizzled amid nearly empty tracks. Then he was given another chance to extend his IndyCar career, this time before fans. His first two races come this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

FORT WORTH, Texas – What was supposed to be a farewell season for Tony Kanaan instead turned into a disappointing tour of nearly empty race tracks.

Then he was offered another opportunity to extend his IndyCar career, this time in front of fans. His first two races are scheduled for this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

“That was actually one of the reasons I decided not to go away, not to retire, because it was so sad," Kanaan said. “I would have never thought I'd be in a race like the Indianapolis 500 and not have a single person sitting in the grandstands. But we need the fans, the sport needs the fans to survive, and I am excited to race in front of fans.”

Kanaan's second chance came courtesy of seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who moved to IndyCar this year but only wanted to race the road and street circuits. That left four open ovals in the No. 48 at Chip Ganassi Racing and Kanaan was the perfect driver for the job.

He drove four seasons at Ganassi from 2014-17 with much of the same personnel he'll be working with on the No. 48 car when he races Saturday and Sunday.

Kanaan, who has a two-year deal with the team, tested with Ganassi at Indy earlier this month, but the team skipped the Texas test because it's confident in its package for the Fort Worth track. Scott Dixon led 157 of the 200 laps last year for a Ganassi win in what was the IndyCar season-opening race.

Kanaan scored a pair of runner-up finishes and a third at Texas as a Ganassi driver and was 10th last season for A.J. Foyt Racing.

Although he's not raced in the IndyCar Series since August, and Kanaan was supposed to be retired already, team owner Chip Ganassi said he doesn't view this reunion as the chance to give the 46-year-old Brazilian a proper sendoff.