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Racing Legends Foyt, Andretti Admire Stewart's Versatility

To become considered successful in any sport, success is a matter of degree. To become legendary is the ultimate degree.

In the U.S., drivers considered to have reached the “legendary” rung by many race fans are A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

For Foyt and Andretti, the blueprint has been winning and versatility. Foyt won seven Indy car championships, four Indianapolis 500s, seven NASCAR Cup races, including the Daytona 500, some sports car races including co-drives to victory at Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring, three USAC stock car titles and a USAC East Coast sprint crown.

Andretti won four Indy car championships, an Indianapolis 500, a Daytona 500, the 12 Hours of Sebring three times, a 24 Hours of Daytona and a Formula One title in addition to running sprints and midgets.

Petty and Earnhardt earned the subjective title of legendary by winning seven NASCAR Cup crowns each in their eras. Petty racked up 200 wins, a record which may never be broken.

So, who’s next? Petty and Earnhardt drove only stock cars, although Petty took a brief fling at drag racing.

But the versatility factor leads us to Tony Stewart, the only driver who has won both an INDYCAR championship and a NASCAR Cup championship. And “Smoke” was the first driver in USAC history to win three championships -- Silver Crown, Sprint and Midget -- in the same year, in 1995. He races dirt track stock cars and bought Eldora Speedway, the legendary Ohio dirt track at which he brings fellow NASCAR drivers each year for a charity late model race.

“I don’t think it’s something you train for,” said Foyt of his own versatile career. “I think it’s something you’re born with. I never figured I had that ability. I just wanted to go to other people’s back yards. If you don‘t ever try, you don‘t know if you can do it.”

Andretti’s response was similar.

“I think it’s individual desire,” Mario said. “It’s the love of driving a race car, a curiosity about other disciplines. I didn’t want to specialize in just one area, though you wind up focusing on one area. Dan Gurney was another. You get incredible satisfaction in playing in someone else’s sandbox.”

Foyt talked about Stewart.

“Tony’s a helluva race driver,” Foyt said. “We’re very good friends. Mario and I only ran a certain amount of races (in other areas). Mario and I only would run (down south) every three or four months. If you miss it a couple of years, you can’t afford to get behind.”

Said Andretti: “Anyone who is able to be successful in major disciplines like Tony has should be proud. They’re special breeds. The trends are not going the direction we’re talking about.

“For example, Formula One drivers used to run Le Mans. Now they don’t. But it’s still a very individual thing. It’s about the driver and what turns you on. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson….it‘s a matter of wanting to. If you look at the Cup schedule, I‘m not sure you want more than 36 races plus Nationwide races at some tracks on the same weekend. As far as capability, the talents are there. There are so many elements that have to come together.”

Insiders through the years have talked about how Foyt and Andretti knew more about how to take care of tires better than other drivers.

“I give credit to Firestone,” Andretti said, “primarily for allowing me to do so much development work, and A.J. was doing the same for Goodyear. Doing so much testing, you could get a feel for how the tires should be. I was also able to hone my driving skills. I never pulled back when they wanted to test.”

Stewart did the best of anyone who ever tried the “double duty,” running the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte on the same day. In his second year of trying it, he finished sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte.

“In my heart, I absolutely would love to do it (again),” Stewart said. “The problem with it is that the Indy cars have become so competitive now and there are so many things that have changed since I ran Indy cars so many years ago. I’m not sure I would be up to speed and be able to get competitive enough, quickly enough. I have all the confidence in the world that the cars I would drive would be competitive. But to really do it right, and to feel like you have a legitimate shot to win the Indy 500, you would have to start at the beginning of the year with the team you’re going to race with in the month of May.

“We’re still the only guy who’s completed all 1,100 miles of the double duty, which is something I’m really proud of.”

Stewart seems to have followed in the footsteps of Foyt.

“Midgets is where I really got that deep appreciation for A.J. and respect for him,” Stewart said. “But I think as my career progressed and there started to become parallels with our two careers, you look back in the history books and you learn and watch videos of him running a midget here, running at Milwaukee and qualifying on the pole the year that all the rear-engine cars came to Indy and dominated, you really started gaining an appreciation for who A.J. was as a driver and realizing, man, he drove everything. It didn’t matter what kind of car it was, he drove it.”

Stewart compared driving Indy cars and stockers.

“I don’t know that racing on dirt helped me when I got to the Indy cars as much as I would like to think it was,” Stewart said. “I think the era had changed. The aerodynamics had become such a crucial part of Indy car racing, and all the downforce involved….

“(The difference is) like trying to drive a tennis ball and a bowling ball. The tennis ball is much like the Indy car drives. It’s light, you can make changes very easily. The bowling ball is like a stock car. You have no choice but to let down the gas and get on the brakes at the end of the straight where you’ve got to slow all that weight down to make it change direction, and then you’ve got to figure out how to make it accelerate again.”

Foyt and Andretti point to one driver who might be able to follow in their footsteps -- and Stewart’s.

“The only one I would think would be Kyle Busch,” Foyt said. “He’s one of the best ones today who could come over (to Indy cars) from NASCAR.”

Andretti said: “Kyle Busch is certainly one of them. I certainly have respect for him. If there’s a weekend off, he drives some other race car.”

And so the sport continues.

Mike Arning contributed to this story.

***

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Race Day ticket prices start at just $30. Fans can buy tickets online at www.imstix.com, by calling the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700, or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area, or by visiting the ticket office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.

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