Saturday night’s race at Texas Motor Speedway ended prematurely for the reconstituted AJ Foyt Racing team, frustratingly bringing the first half of a difficult season to a close.
Two new drivers in 2018 — veteran Tony Kanaan and rookie Matheus Leist — plus an engineering change with Kanaan’s longtime partner Eric Cowdin taking over Foyt’s technical program haven’t equated to superior results on track over last year’s performance.
In the DXC Technology 600 at Texas, misfortune struck early when Leist’s No. 4 Chevrolet came to a stop in Turn 3 as fire engulfed the engine compartment on Lap 7. Leist was able to quickly exit the flaming race car which was subsequently attended to by the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team and the speedway’s own safety crew.
“We were having a solid start, I think, and then I just lost power in Turn 1,” said Leist after the incident. “I told the team, ‘No power. No power.’ And then suddenly, I just saw flames coming up from the engine cover.”
Kanaan was able to race longer than Leist, moving up two positions on the opening lap then sliding back to his starting position of sixth before being passed by eventual winner Scott Dixon on Lap 20. Seven laps later, Kanaan hit pit lane with a damaged toe link after brushing the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier.
Even though the damage was repaired and Kanaan was able to turn more laps, he was 12 laps behind the leader and the team made the decision to call it a night.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Kanaan. “We definitely had a little issue with the rear of the car and it cost us the race. But it was a great weekend up until now, we qualified sixth.
“When you’re 12 laps down, it’s not worth it to put yourself out there. We’re not going to gain anything so we decided to stop. We’ll bounce back.”
Through nine races this season, Kanaan has achieved just three top-10 finishes while Leist has finished 15th or worse five times and earned a best result of 12th at Barber Motorsports Park. The drivers’ positions in the points standings reflect their on-track performances: Kanaan is placed 14th with 157 points while Leist is mired in 19th with 133 markers. Comparatively, championship leader and race winner Scott Dixon exited Texas with 357 points.
The situation was only slightly worse for the Foyt team at this point a year ago. With drivers Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly, the group had achieved four top-10 finishes through the ninth round at Texas and the drivers headed to the next race ranked 17th and 19th, respectively, in the championship standings.
With Kanaan and the team committed to each other for at least another year, panic has not yet set in for the Foyt camp as the rebuilding process continues. Still, Kanaan — who’s built a reputation as a premier oval driver — missed out on a chance to earn valuable points and challenge for a win after qualifying sixth.
Following a test at Road America for Leist and a trip to Le Mans for Kanaan where he’ll race a Ford GT for Chip Ganassi Racing, AJ Foyt Racing will reconvene in Elkart Lake, Wisconsin for the KOHLER Grand Prix on June 24.