The Racing Capital
of the World
July 21, 2014 | By IMS
Tony Stewart freely admits he was one of the purists who didn’t think much of NASCAR’s invasion of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994 for the inaugural Brickyard 400.
For a Hoosier who worshipped the 2.5-mile oval and was raised on open-wheel racing, only one kind of race at Indy would do.
“I was one of them that thought it was a crime, initially,” the Columbus, Ind., native said. “I’m a purist. It’s always been sacred ground to me. I remember when they did the tire test there and there was so much excitement after that, and that really didn’t even get me to switch sides.”
He was racing in Illinois and didn’t see the first Brickyard until later that day on replay, but once he did -- and heard from fellow racers that stock cars crossing the yard of bricks was plenty cool -- he was sold.
“It was the month of May historically, and all of a sudden it was the month of May and (July) now, and you had the same historic racetrack and now you had two events instead of one,” Stewart said.
Stewart has had his share of May appearances in the Indianapolis 500, highlighted by a fifth-place finish in 1997 and a sixth in 2001 when he did double-duty at Indy and NASCAR’s 600-miler in Charlotte.
He has put his name in the history books for his Brickyard performances. “Smoke” has two wins, in 2005 and 2007, 11 top-10 finishes including each of the last five years, and he’s a perfect 2,401-for-2,401 in laps completed.
“It’s a big deal,” Stewart said on a teleconference in advance of the 21st annual Crown Royal Presents the John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com. “When you grow up 45 minutes from Indy … that is sacred ground to me. Always has been, always will be.”
So, will this season bring a third Indy win? This season’s Sprint Cup campaign so far would suggest not, as Stewart is 19th in points in his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet with no wins and just two top 5s.
On the other hand, Stewart is notorious for picking up steam midway through a season, and in a tire test last month at IMS his car was fast before a tire failure led to a crash. And he gained a big measure of confidence last weekend in a sprint car race.
At Tri-City Motor Speedway in Auburn, Michigan, Stewart won in a winged sprint car one year after an accident in the same type of car left him with two broken leg bones and a long rehabilitation.
“It was a confidence boost for me,” said Stewart, 43. “Dealing with when you haven’t won, and you haven’t necessarily been a contender to be in the top two or three each week and having those opportunities to win races this year, you start questioning what it is in the equation that you’re missing.
“We’re all finicky when it comes to running bad and you sit there and start questioning if you’re doing something wrong or if you’re not adapting to the car.”
Stewart knows he’s still got it. Next is finding out whether he’ll have it at his hometown track, where he relishes the chance to become a three-time Indy winner.
“It’s a big deal. It’s always big when you come home. It’s always big when you have friends and family that don’t get the opportunity to go see you race anywhere else.