Tony Stewart Doubles Down

 by Pete McCole
May 30, 2001

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Tony Stewart was an extremely busy man
the past few weeks.

Tony Stewart racked up the frequent flyer miles the past few weeks as he flew back and forth between Indianapolis and Charlotte in his quest to run both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. While Stewart failed to win either event, he was the first person to complete all 1,100 miles and finished a respectable sixth in Indianapolis and sixth in Charlotte. 

Even though Tony Stewart had had considerable success since joining the Winston Cup ranks, he led all NASCAR drivers in victories last season; he wants to win the Indianapolis 500. Enough so that he's willing to put himself through it all again, even with the memory of having been carried from his Winston Cup car on a stretcher after pulling "the double" in 1999. 

"The reason we decided to do it was the same intentions that we had a couple of years ago." Stewart said. "We want to win Indy."

"You always hear people say that hindsight is 20/20. Well, after doing it the first time we realized that we made some mistakes and there were some things that could have been done a lot better."

More than winning the Indianapolis 500, Stewart would like to be the first driver to win both races on the same day.

"If we can win the (Indianapolis) 500, I can promise you I'm going to be on such a high that these guys down here (in Charlotte) won't stand a chance." Stewart said. "I don't know how you could come down here and be more excited about running a 600-mile race after winning a 500-mile race in Indianapolis.

A handful of drivers have "run the double", but with limited success to show for it.

John Andretti was the first driver to accomplish "the double" in 1994, finishing 10th in the 500, and then finished 37th in the Coca Cola 600. Robby Gordon attempted "the double" in 1997, but rain washed out the Indy 500, allowing Gordon to run the 600 and fly to Indy the next day. He finished 40th in the 600 after a crash and completed only four laps at Indy two days later. Gordon attempted the double again last year, but rain delayed the start of the Indy 500, causing Gordon to miss the start of the Coca Cola 600. Gordon finished 6th in the Indy 500, then flew to Charlotte and relieved fill-in driver P.J. Jones after 254 laps.

Other drivers have attempted to run both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600, but not on the same day. Cale and Leroy Yarbrough, Donnie Allison and Jerry Grant have competed in both races back in the late '60's and early 70's when the races were held on separate days.

In 1999, Stewart became the only the second driver to compete in both races on the same day. After finishing 9th in the Indy 500, he flew to Concord, NC and then flew by helicopter to the track and started his second race of the day. He finished 4th in the 600, but was so exhausted by the ordeal that he had to be carried to the infield care center on a stretcher. Afterward, he said he would not attempt another "double".  "I won't try that again, until I forget how bad I felt." Stewart said. "I do want to drive Indy again. I want to win it before I die." While Stewart did not win at Indy, he did become the first person to complete all 1,100 miles when racing both events in a single day.

Despite Stewart's desire to win the Indianapolis 500, he is still committed to Joe Gibbs Winston Cup team, making the #20 Home Depot Pontiac his priority on Sunday.

"If the situation warrants that I have to get out of the car at Indianapolis, then I'll just have to do that." Stewart said. "That's the commitment I made to Joe Gibbs Racing. The things that I have to do are not unreasonable; we have a deadline time that I have to be out of the car. I'm not going to tell you what time that is, because we don't want everybody to be looking at his or her watch. We know -- and we'll do -- what needs to be done."

All of the people involved in the effort have been through the timetables and fine-tuned them for all possible scenarios to make sure the transition goes smoothly.

"Everybody involved knows what time I have to be out of that race car." Stewart said. "We've got all the logistics done. There are eight different scenarios they've played out have it down to the minute."  Even if Stewart is leading the Indy 500, he will have to hand his car to a back-up driver give up any chance of winning the race.

"That's the commitment I gave to Joe Gibbs Racing and Home Depot," said Stewart. "Trust me, they did not have to let me go up to Indianapolis to do this. They did it because they understand how big of a dream it is for me to go win Indy."

To make this "double" effort even more interesting, Stewart will also take part in a charity fund-raising effort by running in both events. For every lap that Stewart completes in both races, Home Depot, Target-Ganassi Racing and Stewart will each donate $100 to the Victory Junction Camp that is currently being started by Kyle Petty. "When we started the idea of doing the double duty again, we wanted to do something special. So many people have helped us to do this whole thing. We wanted to give something back." Stewart said. "This gives us an added bonus to do well, not that we need it. We need to stay on the lead lap all day. To do something positive is my honor to be a part of it."

"There are not words in my heart to thank Tony and everyone personally for what this means," said Kyle Petty. The camp, started by Petty and his wife Pattie, will serve as a retreat for seriously ill children and will be in honor of their son, Adam Petty. "It's a long way to get this camp up and running. We need to get the awareness out there. For Tony to do this and get the exposure on the networks is huge for the Victory Junction Camp." "We want to win both races, but this is an added reason to stay on the lead lap all day long." Stewart said. "It's just an added bonus and added incentive to do well." 

Special thanks to Brandon Reed for his research for this article.

The author can be contacted at contacts@autoracing1.com

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