Kanaan sees Pocono as chance to turn season around

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It’s been a quiet season for Tony Kanaan thus far in 2017, but he’s looking to make some noise in this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway and kick-start a strong finish to his 20th year driving Indy cars.

Since the Verizon IndyCar Series returned to Pocono four years ago, Kanaan has become quite familiar with the 2.5-mile triangular oval. He has led 115 laps in four races and nearly won the 2014 edition before being forced to pit from the lead for fuel with just three laps remaining and finishing 11th.

With a layout unique to any circuit on the schedule, Kanaan has grown familiar to the track’s challenges.

“It’s a ‘Tricky Triangle,’” he said Kanaan, alluding to Pocono’s iconic nickname. “It’s a superspeedway with three completely different corners and not just angle, but banking as well. You’re never going to have a car there that you are completely happy with, so you’re going to have to deal with it. The most challenging thing is to find that balance between one end of the racetrack to the other end.”

Amid a 45-race win drought – Kanaan’s last win came at the 2014 season finale on another superspeedway, Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California – his competitiveness has been anything but lacking. And the Chip Ganassi Racing driver knows it can be done. He points to good friend and fellow Brazilian Helio Castroneves, who recently broke a 54-race winless streak of his own and sits second in the championship.

“Look at Helio,” said Kanaan. “It’s such a competitive series. In 13 races, we have nine different winners. Weekend in and weekend out, you have 10 guys that can win. To me, what it’s going to take is very simple and that’s being in the right place at the right time – and everything has to work out perfect for you.”

Kanaan has been close to perfect on ovals for some time now. Fifteen of his 17 career wins have come on oval tracks. Over the past two seasons and in nine oval starts, the No. 10 NTT Data Honda driver has scored top-10 finishes in each race. But it’s been almost exactly three years since he won a race, Aug. 30, 2014, in Fontana.

“I guess I need to step up the game and go get a win now,” said Kanaan. “I think what it’s going to take is we just need to be doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve been really strong on the ovals this year, apparently the past two years, so I’m excited the next two races are ovals.

“It’s getting towards the end of the championship and I want to finish on a high. So for this weekend, I’m extremely confident. I’ve led a bunch of laps at Pocono. It’s kind of like the Indy 500. I led a bunch of laps there and never won until I did (in 2013). Pocono, it’s one of those tracks, so I would say that’s the goal for this weekend.”

Chip Ganassi Racing switched from Chevrolet to Honda over the offseason, with aspirations of strong outings at superspeedways like Indianapolis, Texas and Pocono. It’s worked at the first two big ovals. Each of the team’s four drivers led laps at both the Indianapolis 500 in May and the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 in June. Kanaan finished fifth and second in those races, respectively.

“To be honest, that was one of the reasons we switched – to be able to be strong at the superspeedways,” said Kanaan. “So this weekend, if you look at our performance at Indianapolis, we have extremely high hopes. We better deliver this weekend because the package that we have, it’s at another superspeedway and that’s what we need to take advantage of.”

Sitting ninth in the standings, 133 points behind leader Josef Newgarden and 81 in back of fifth-place Will Power, Kanaan is looking to flip the script of his season this weekend.

“I expected to have a better season than what I’m having,” said Kanaan. “Now with four races to go, what I expect is for us to turn the situation around. I can still finish in the top five in the championship and that’s what I’m going to go for.”

Practice for the ABC Supply 500 begins at 9 a.m. ET Saturday and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Qualifying airs live at 1 p.m. the same day on NBCSN, with a final 30-minute practice at 5 p.m. (RaceControl.IndyCar.com).

Coverage of the 200-lap race, the 14th of 17 on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, starts at 2 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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