Saturday, August 09, 2008
Sports NewsMayfield's Mutterings: Summer 'Mutts'

Extension locks up Kanaan at AGR

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[August 09, 2008]  SPARTA, Ky. (AP) -- Andretti Green Racing, a team that appeared to be in disarray two weeks ago, was on the same page Friday at Kentucky Speedway.

Answering persistent rumors that Tony Kanaan, its "franchise player," would sign with another team for 2009, AGR announced the 33-year-old Brazilian has signed a five-year contract extension through 2013.

"It has been an eventful week, with a lot of rumors and a lot of things that people come up with and I have no idea where it's coming from," said Kanaan, the only remaining driver from AGR's entry into the IndyCar Series in 2003. "This defines where we are at and I am really excited about the opportunity that these guys gave me six years ago."

Michael Andretti, co-owner of AGR along with Kevin Savoree and Kim Green, said the rumors that Kanaan would leave to drive for Chip Ganassi Racing or some other IndyCar team had gotten out of hand and were starting to interrupt the normal flow of the team.

"It got ridiculous. Some of the guys were asking, `Is Tony leaving? What's going on?'" Andretti said. "We felt like we had a deal a long time ago with Tony with a handshake. ... The test was just trying to get it on paper. Tony is what we consider a franchise player and one of the foundations of the team. He's part of the family."

Savoree agreed, noting he and Kanaan also have talked about his future beyond driving.

"Tony gave us our first pole, our first win and our first championship, and that's the kind of relationship that we've had," he said. "You know, like so many families, once in a while, we have our squabbles ... Sometimes, they get pretty loud. But I promise you, that guy sitting up here, there's nobody more motivated in the sport."

Danica Patrick and rookie Hideki Mutoh already were under contract for 2009 and the signing of Kanaan means Marco Andretti, Michael's son, is the only AGR driver not locked up for next season.

"There's still a few things to iron out, but he's going to be here next year," the elder Andretti said. "Now, we can concentrate on finishing out this season strong and getting ready for next year."

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So far, 2008 has been a disappointing season for AGR, although Kanaan goes into Saturday night's Meijer Indy 300 fourth in the standings, 118 points behind series leader Scott Dixon.

Patrick, who got her first victory earlier this year in Japan, is sixth in the standings, just ahead of Mutoh, a leading candidate for rookie of the year. Marco Andretti is a disappointing 10th.

"We thought we should have at least three of the four as championship contenders," Green said. "We've been very competitive at almost every racetrack, and that's probably the most frustrating thing. We've been in the position to win quite a few races but, either an incident on the racetrack has taken us out, or driver error or, in fairness, some bad strategy on our part."

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There also have been rumblings of dissension in the once close-knit AGR ranks on and off throughout the season, and it appeared to come to a head two weeks ago at Edmonton.

It appeared Patrick and Andretti held up a faster Kanaan, who had started last because of an engine change and was making a charge toward the front. Then Andretti locked up his brakes and knocked Patrick's car into the wall.

An obviously angry Michael Andretti called the team together for a postrace meeting that lasted about one hour and included a lecture on working together from the former driving star.

"I had a little meeting with them after the last race and I think we all are pretty much on the same page," Andretti said Friday.

Asked if Kanaan is the team's No. 1 driver, Andretti said: "There is no No. 1 driver. ... What has made this team work, I think, is that there isn't that, it's the four working together. Have we had that all year this year? No. Has there had to be some reminders? Yes.

"But I would say most of the races we have worked together and those were where we had our best races. That's constantly a challenge obviously. You have four (drivers) that want to win. Sometimes you've got to remind them that if they all work together, that all four can get better."

[Associated Press; By MIKE HARRIS]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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