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INDYCAR: 7-Eleven scales back, joins Danica; Kanaan "free agent"

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Andretti Autosport confirmed today that Tony Kanaan and his $3 million plus per season salary may not be around much longer, and that longtime Kanaan sponsor 7-Eleven is reducing their role with the team to associate sponsorship.

Additionally, 7-Eleven will move from AA's #11 team to Danica Patrick's #7 team in 2011.

John Lopes, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Andretti Autosport, said today that

...our hope is to have Tony Kanaan and the 11 car as part of our IZOD IndyCar Series lineup again in 2011 and we are currently working very hard to find the necessary sponsorship to make that a reality.

In the meantime and although he remains under contract with Andretti Autosport, we have given Tony and his management the permission to talk with other IndyCar team owners to explore what other alternatives might be available at this time.

The news comes after a contentious season that saw Kanaan, the de facto team leader at Andretti Autosport, and Patrick engage in an on-again-off-again feud which also saw some very aggressive racing between the two drivers. During the Cafes do Brasil 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway Saturday night, both drivers battled fiercely for the second- and third-place podium spots, with Patrick eventually finishing second and Kanaan third.

It should be noted that Kanaan participates in Kraft Foods' racing and marketing programs, which is a separate deal from the 7-Eleven sponsorship. However, in recent years Kraft's primary sponsorships have been limited to single-event special paint schemes (including this year when Planters peanuts took over primary sponsorship on the #11 car) and there is no indication that Kraft might escalate their Kanaan sponsorship either for Andretti Autosport or for another team.

Kanaan's salary requirements severely limit his options at other teams, particularly if he does not bring additional sponsorship of his own to a new ride. Target Chip Ganassi Racing has been rumored to be expanding to three cars for 2011 and Kanaan nearly had a deal to drive for Ganassi during his last contract negotiations. But while Ganassi is one of the very few owners in IndyCar that could afford Kanaan's salary, he seems more likely at this point to offer a seat to Graham Rahal, who brings full sponsorship from TCB Retail Group as well as lower salary demands.

One possible team that could be in the hunt for Kanaan if he leaves Andretti Autosport might be de Ferran Dragon Racing, who mentioned the possibility of expanding to two cars in 2011 earlier this season. Kanaan's team leadership abilities and setup skills might be an attractive package in a mentoring role for fellow Brazilian Raphael Matos, and the team might have the resources to afford Kanaan's financial desires.