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My Brickyard Moment: Tony Stewart, 2005

Note: This continues a series of letters from NASCAR drivers recounting their Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Powered by Big Machine Records wins and other big moments to happen at the Brickyard. Read other installments of "My Brickyard Moment" here

Tony Stewart grew up in Columbus, Indiana, just 50 miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He always dreamed of racing in and winning the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge but fell short in five starts between 1996-2001. But “Smoke” fulfilled his dreams by winning the Brickyard in 2005, one of the most emotional victories by any driver in the 111-year history of IMS. Here are his memories of that magical day, in his own words:

What was it like to finally win at Indy? You dream about something for so long, you become consumed by it. When I was in USAC trying to make a living as a race car driver, I drove a tow truck for a guy I raced sprint cars against. I would drive down Georgetown toward 16th Street, parallel with the frontstretch, and wonder what it would be like 300 feet to the left running 200 mph.

I got a chance to do that, and finally, after years of trying to win, be it in Indy cars or stock cars, I got to know what it feels like, to see that view coming down the front straightaway, seeing the checkered flag and knowing that I was the first driver to cross the stripe, versus the second, third or fourth-place guy. I had wanted that moment for so long, and I finally got it.

The Brickyard 400 is a big deal for me. It’s my home race, obviously. Growing up in Indiana and every year watching the Indy 500 and the whole month of May leading up to it, a race at the Brickyard is more than just a regular points race. It’s always been a big race to all of the Cup drivers, but then when you grow up in Indiana, it just makes it that much more important.

There is only one thing better than winning the Brickyard, and that’s winning again. You’re obviously proud when you go back, especially after the first year. I don’t think we got to enjoy that win as much as we did the second year.

I think the first year it was more of just a huge weight lifted off our shoulders that we accomplished a lifelong dream of ours. And I think in 2007 it was a chance that we really got to enjoy it with our team. We were able to enjoy the win that night versus just the emotional drain of just finally accomplishing a goal like it was the first time around.

Unlike some racetracks, it takes a complete team effort to win at the Brickyard. There have been outstanding performances by teams when they’re able to win. It’s not a track where you can back into a win.

Track position helps you, but it doesn’t win you the race. It always boils down to who has got the best handling car and the best straight-line speed. That combination is very important here, and there’s always been some really good one-on-one battles late in the race that have decided the winner of this event. That is what makes this race so special.

The two races that we’ve won there, you pray that when you’ve got a lead and when you’re pulling away, that you don’t get a caution late, and that you just have to hit your marks. You’ve got four opportunities to make a mistake, versus two opportunities a lap, so it always makes it more nerve-wracking. Those last 10 laps of the race seem like they take forever when you’re leading.

OK, this is kind of funny, but when they announced Indianapolis was going to host a NASCAR race, I didn’t like it. I was one of the “old guard,” who wasn’t too excited when they said that stock cars would be at Indy, just because of the history of the place.

But we’ve all adapted our attitudes toward it, because in addition to the Indianapolis 500 – which is what Indy has been all about for so many years – they have the Cup Series and they had Formula One, probably the most recognized form of motorsports in the world. The Speedway brought all of the major racing series together at one great venue.

A lot of times people are scared of change, but as the years have gone on people have not only accepted the changes that have gone on at the Speedway, but appreciated them, as well.

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