- Associated Press - Friday, October 29, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Former IndyCar champion Tony Kanaan is looking for a new ride.

The popular 2004 series champion from Brazil has reached a settlement with Andretti Autosport that releases him from his contract immediately. Terms were not disclosed.

Kanaan spent the last eight seasons with Andretti, winning 14 races and the 2004 championship. He never finished out of the top six in points.

“I want to thank (team owner) Michael Andretti and everyone at Andretti Autosport for eight years together,” Kanaan said in a statement. “We created some great memories that I will always cherish and we have much to be proud of.”

Kanaan’s future at Andretti took a hit when convenience store giant 7-Eleven announced it would not return to as primary sponsor on Kanaan’s No. 11 Honda next season.

Andretti said it was “difficult to believe” the 35-year-old driver was leaving, but added the sponsorship issue was too big an obstacle to overcome.

“We felt it was important to give Tony the freedom to review his options outside of Andretti Autosport,” Andretti said. “We understand firsthand his value as a driver in this series and we did not want to prevent him from furthering his career in the event we could not arrive at a reasonable solution for him for 2011.”

Kanaan said before the season finale in Miami he was optimistic he could find a new sponsor and hoped he would stay with Andretti. He finished sixth in points in 2010, winning at Iowa in June.

He was one of the founding members of Andretti Autosport _ formerly known as Andretti Green Racing _ in 2003 and became the face of a team that challenged Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing for supremacy.

Tony deserved a chance when we signed him prior to the 2003 season and he made the most of that opportunity,” Andretti said. “He brought us our first pole, our first race win and our first championship. We were always a contender to win the Indianapolis 500, and while I’m disappointed we were never able to do that together, I am confident that Tony will win it before his career is over.”

The program, however, has fallen a step off the pace recently amid reports of internal squabbling. Kanaan and Danica Patrick had a tense run-in at Texas in the spring, when Patrick cut Kanaan off while he attempted to pass her. He slammed on the brakes and fell to the rear of the field.

The two swore things were patched up, but they engaged in a thrilling duel for second in the finale, with Patrick edging Kanaan at the wire in the series’ final visit to Kanaan’s home track for the foreseeable future.

The settlement announcement came the same day Andretti announced a two-year contract extension with Ryan Hunter-Reay through 2012.

Hunter-Reay finished seventh in the points this season and won at Long Beach, but needed an assist from series sponsor Izod to run a full schedule. Sponsorship on his No. 37 car will be announced soon.

“Anything less than wins and challenging for the championship next year would be unacceptable,” Hunter-Reay said. “With that said, we all recognize there is a lot of work to be done to bring the team back to that level.”

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