Tony Stewarts feelings for Brickyard run deep
Once against NASCAR's coming to Indy, now Stewart keeps race marked on his calendar
Thursday, Jul. 25, 2013
Tony Stewart looks out from his garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Friday, July 12, 2013, in Loudon, N.H. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
Eldora Speedway owner and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart talks to the media before the inaugural Mudsummer Classic NASCAR Trucks Series race at Eldora Speedway on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in Rossburg, Ohio. (AP Photo/The Dayton Daily News, Greg Lynch)
The Sprint Cup Series annual visit to iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway remains one of the races each season three-time series champion and Indiana native Tony Stewart keeps marked on his calendar.
It wasnt always that way, however.
There was a time when NASCAR first made its decision 20 years ago to hold one of its premier series races at the traditionally open-wheel venue that Stewart would have preferred the calendar date remain empty.
Not because he didnt revere the track, but because he didnt think stock car racing and the facility nicknamed The Brickyard would be a good mix.
The first time (NASCAR) came, Ill be honest, I was 100 percent against it. When you grow up in the state of Indiana, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the Holy Grail to you, Stewart said. You know, I didnt want to see anything different come to it. To me, it was the Indy 500 and thats all it was supposed to be.
But, you know, after watching the first race, the second year, I was kind of on the fence, and by the third year I was a fan of it. Luckily my career path, I mean, its allowed me to come race here every year.
While Stewart found it very difficult to earn a win at the Brickyard in NASCAR competition, he finally broke into Victory Lane in 2005.
It was everything to me, Stewart said of his 2005 win. My whole life, since I was a kid, thats what I wanted to do.
Not that I had some fascination with kissing bricks as a child. But my fascination to do it here was pretty obsessive.
Stewart has never won the Indianapolis 500 although he did win the championship in what is now the IndyCar Series in 1997.
Stewart added another NASCAR win at Indy in 2007 to become just one of four drivers with more than one win there.
With Formula One coming in, Moto GP, the Grand Am Series, Nationwide cars running here, I think the mindset has changed that its too historic of a speedway to run one race a year on it, he said.
To be able to bring so many great different series and divisions here, its pretty neat that a lot of people get the honor to race here at Indy now.
A third Brickyard win couldnt come at a better time for Stewart.
Entering Sundays race at Indy, Stewart is 13th in the series standings with seven races remaining before the 12-driver Chase for the Cup field is set. The Top 10 in points are guaranteed in the field.
He has one victory, which gives him a leg up one of two wild card spots for drivers not in the Top 10 with the most wins but additional wins would help secure an opportunity to run for a fourth series championship.
And even though Stewart was dead-set against NASCAR racing at Indy, his victories in the Brickyard 400 hold special meaning.
Its definitely not just another victory to us. Its a big deal to us to win here, he said. This is an event that I definitely circle on the schedule emotionally I have a lot invested in it.
You dont just pull in and say, We're going to go in and try to win the race, then pull out of here. When youre here, youre amped up because youre at Indianapolis.
Building the Brickyard
NASCAR has held one Cup series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway every year since 1994:
Year, Race winner
1994, Jeff Gordon
1995, Dale Earnhardt
1996, Dale Jarrett
1997, Ricky Rudd
1998, Jeff Gordon
1999, Dale Jarrett
2000, Bobby Labonte
2001, Jeff Gordon
2002, Bill Elliott
2003, Kevin Harvick
2004, Jeff Gordon
2005, Tony Stewart
2006, Jimmie Johnson
2007, Tony Stewart
2008, Jimmie Johnson
2009, Jimmie Johnson
2010, Jamie McMurray
2011, Paul Menard
2012, Jimmie Johnson