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08/09 2018

TONY STEWART SAYS HE’S GETTING ANXIOUS TO ENTER LE MANS AND ANOTHER INDY 500

 

Tony Stewart believes he can still compete at the highest levels of motorsports.PHOTO BY MOTORSPORT IMAGE – LAT

The three-time Cup Series champion wants to be more than just an attraction

BY:  MATT WEAVER

Tony Stewart has been on a bucket list world tour since stepping away from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series after the 2016 season.

That tour has included his continued management of Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio; lobbying NASCAR for a Cup race at Eldora; operating his own sprint car division; and globetrotting to run his own car everywhere from Indiana to New Zealand.

But there is one more bucket list item that has eluded him for nearly two decades: Tony Stewart, 47, wants to return home to compete in one more Indianapolis 500.

“If I go, I’m not going just to run it,” said Stewart, speaking at the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series Ford Mustang reveal in Detroit. “I don’t want to be a sideshow like Danica (Patrick) was at Indy this year. If I go, I want to go feeling like I’ve got the same opportunity to win that everyone else in the field does.

“It’s an insult to the guys who do it every week to show up and think you’re going to be as good as those guys are. They’re on their game. They know their cars. They know how they need their cars to feel in practice to be good in the race. It’s foolish to think you can just show up and be competitive and have a shot to win.”

Stewart is the 1997 IndyCar champion who spent his childhood dreaming of winning The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. However, he began transitioning to stock cars in the late ’90s and was never able to reach victory lane in his five starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He won the pole in 1996 and had a best finish of fifth in 1997.

He had previously said he was too far removed from that period of his career to seriously consider an entry but now says “it’s not out of the question” that he would give it one last hurrah.

The three-time Cup Series champion has not yet reached out to teams about a potential program. However, he does believe he would need to make a couple of additional starts before the Indy 500 just to be prepared for the month of May.

“One race might not be enough to feel like you’re where you need to be,” he said. “But at least little things like pit stops and having that much duration of time in the seat to make sure no points or parts of the seat are pinching — things when you’re only in it for 10 minutes you don’t notice, but two hours you notice it. Those are things to sort out once you get there.”

Stewart made headlines during the offseason by suggesting he wanted to make a handful of NASCAR Xfinity Series road course starts but revealed on Thursday it would mean sacrificing a portion of his dirt schedule.

“(It) was a lot to give up,” he said. “I still plan on doing it somewhere down the road if the opportunity is right. If that opportunity does come around and I don’t have four sprint car races on the schedule, I’d definitely like to do it again.”

Stewart initially struggled in his return to full-time sprint car racing, removing himself from the seat anytime he felt ill-prepared. He ran just 45 races last season but has already competed in 62 this year.

“I feel every night I’m in a car, we’re better,” Stewart said. “Our performance is better. … We’re much better than we were last year.

“The more I race, the better I get. Even on days we’re off, I’m learning things that will help down the road. It’s just getting back in that rhythm again and finally starting to get confidence back as a driver and feel like I’m ready to start doing some stuff.”

And then there’s the matter of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race Stewart was going to run, the rumors went, with Ford Performance this year before such a deal couldn’t be struck.

“Everything’s a possibility,” he said. “There’s nothing I’ve written off and said, ‘You know what, I’m never doing it.’ Everything is an opportunity still. I’m getting anxious to do stuff again.”

Everything but Formula 1, that is.

“That’s going to be a tough one,” he said. “They’re skinny. I don’t mind working hard to be a race car driver, but I don’t want to have to work that hard just to be skinny. I like to eat still.”

Stewart’s business partner at Stewart-Haas Racing, Gene Haas, owns the Haas F1 team.