Editorial

Stewart hopes Indy luck changes
by Pete McCole

August 6, 2004

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Stewart

Since he was old enough to sit behind the wheel of a go-kart at age seven, Tony Stewart has always longed to compete at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Growing up in Rushville, Ind., - a mere 45 minutes from the famous 2.5-mile oval – Stewart lived in the shadow of Indy as he made his way up through the open-wheel ranks, dreaming the dream shared by almost every aspiring young driver – winning at “The Brickyard”.

Today, Stewart is a championship-winning driver in the United States Auto Club, Indy Racing League and NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. He’s won races driving stock cars, Indy cars, trucks, midgets, sprint cars and go-karts, but he’s still looking for that elusive first win at his home track.

“Take the one thing in your life that you’re the most passionate about, and you’ll have a good idea of what Indy means to me,” said Stewart, who drives the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. “There’s at least something in everybody’s life that they’re very passionate about, and for me that’s winning at the Brickyard.”

Stewart has been more successful than most at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 13 total starts in three different divisions, Stewart has started from the pole twice and led a total of 236 laps, picking up four top-5 and seven top-10 finishes, earning over $2 million is winnings.

But the only number that stands out for Stewart is zero. In his 13 starts, his best finishes have been one runner-up showing.

“I’ve been a sentimental favorite and a legitimate favorite to win at Indy before, but I’ve always come up short,” said Stewart. “It really doesn’t mean anything to me until that last lap happens.”

Getting to that last lap hasn’t been a real problem for Stewart; it’s leading the last lap that’s been eluding him.

Stewart has come close – agonizingly close – to winning at the Brickyard. In his five starts in the Indianapolis 500, he’s led a total of 122 laps; in the Brickyard 400 he’s held the top spot for 103 laps.

Stewart made his debut at Indy in the 1996 Indianapolis 500 during his rookie year in the Indy Racing League. Just a year removed from becoming the first driver to win the USAC Triple Crown – the USAC Midget, Sprint Car and Silver Crown Championships – Stewart became only the fifth rookie win the pole, leading the first 32 laps before a faulty pop-up valve ended his day on lap 82. The impressive run earned Stewart the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors.

Stewart competed in the next three Indy 500’s, leading 64 laps during his championship-winning season in 1997. In the 1998 Indy 500, Stewart led just one lap before his engine gave out after passing Greg Ray for the lead on lap 21.

In 1999, Stewart moved on to NASCAR’s premiere division, but has fared no better in the Brickyard 400. He came closest in 2001, where he was a threat to win all day before he bounced off the turn two wall as he raced with Dale Jarrett for toward the lead. Victory was again in Stewart’s sights last year as he led three times for 60 laps, but fell victim to a late caution flag that resulted in a 12th-place finish.

Surprisingly, Stewart’s best finish at Indy was neither in the Indianapolis 500 nor the Brickyard 400, but rather in an International Race of Champions event in 2001, where he finished second to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte in a race pitting 11 drivers from different forms of racing in identically prepared Pontiac Firebirds.

“It’s difficult to win at Indy,” said Stewart. “It’s probably one of the hardest places to win a race. Just because you’re a favorite doesn’t mean it’s an automatic done deal.

“The fact that the Brickyard 400 comes around only once a year is the hard part. It’s not like everyday you can work to accomplish that goal. I only have one chance out of every 365 days to win at Indy.”

Stewart is one of just a handful of drivers who have competed at Indy in both stock cars and Indy cars, giving him a unique perspective on how to get around the track.

“It’s a challenging track in a (Nextel) Cup car,” Stewart said. “In an Indy car you just don’t lift – if the cars right. But in a stock car, even if it’s right, you’ve got to lift and you’ve got to brake.

“It’s a challenging track in an Indy car too, but if you can get it right in an Indy car then you can run it wide-open around there, and that’s one less variable you’ve got to worry about.”

Some might call Stewart’s passion for winning at Indy an obsession, but he says it’s that same passion for winning that’s kept him mentally focused throughout his career.

“You can let it monopolize you mind, but at the same time, that has helped me get to this level of my career,” said Stewart. “Preparing and focusing on the objectives is what has gotten me to where I am today.

“As every year goes by you learn how to deal with situations better and you learn to prepare better, but that can also put you in a situation where you can over-prepare. What we’ve tried to do this year is just simplify things and go back to the basics of why we got here, and that’s to have fun.”

Year

Event

 Start

Finish

Status/Laps

Laps Led

 Earnings

2003

Brickyard 400

 15

12

Running/160

 60

 $224,728

2002

Brickyard 400

1

 12

Running/160

 43

 $185,953

2001

Brickyard 400

9

 17

Running/160

3

$119,060

2000

Brickyard 400

 18

5

Running/160

0

$189,475

1999

Brickyard 400

 11

7

Running/160

0

$162,635

Year

 Event

 Start

 Finish

Status/Laps

Laps Led

 Earnings

2001

 Indianapolis 500

7

6

Running/200

 13

 $218,850

1999

 Indianapolis 500

24

9

Running/196

0

$186,670

1998

 Indianapolis 500

4

 33

 Engine/22

1

$220,250

1997

 Indianapolis 500

2

5

Running/200

64

$345,056

1996

 Indianapolis 500

1

 24

 Engine/82

 44

 $222,053

Year

Event

 Start

 Finish

 Status/Laps

 Laps Led

 Earnings

2002

IROC XXVI

 10

 11

Running/40

0

 N/A

2001

IROC XXV

 4

 2

Running/40

8

 N/A

2000

IROC XXIV

 10

3

Running/40

0

 N/A



Total Starts: 13 (Five starts in Nextel Cup, five starts in IRL and three starts in IROC)

Total Laps Led: 236 (106 laps in Nextel Cup, 122 laps in IRL and eight laps in IROC)

Best Finish: 2nd (2001 IROC XXV Round IV)

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

Go to our forums to discuss this article

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