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Engaging Stewart comes home on a high note

Fri Jul 29, 2011 10:16 pm

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INDIANAPOLIS -- What was the dead giveaway Tony Stewart had just about floated into his hometown race track, the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway?


Stewart spent more than 20 minutes -- maybe almost a half-hour -- surrounded by the media in an anteroom near the Brickyard's Sprint Cup garage.

Now, Stewart likes the media -- at least most of the time. But Stewart spending that much time, and speaking to them at that much length, is virtually unprecedented.


You wouldn't think that something seemingly as simple as another short-track win, which was exactly what Stewart scored on Wednesday evening, would mean that much. But Stewart's career-first World of Outlaws Sprint Car win, at Ohsweken Speedway in Ontario, Canada, was so much more.


And maybe his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, fellow Indiana native Ryan Newman, put it in perfect perspective.


"I don't know if [Stewart] made it to Cloud 13, but he passed Cloud 9 about halfway into that race," Newman said with a chuckle, sitting barely 20 yards away from Stewart at his own media gathering. "I know he's wound up about it. Meant a lot to him. Something he's been working toward, getting that first Outlaw victory. He's been competitive in both 360 [cubic-inch engines] and 410 Sprint Cars throughout the season.


"I know it meant a lot for him to get that and ... that was something I know he's going to carry with him for a long time. I know how much different races like that -- the Copper World and Turkey Night -- open-wheel races he always wanted to win, meant to him. So I know this is right there with that."


But there's one fact that's overwhelmingly obvious. A third Brickyard 400 victory would totally turn Stewart inside-out, more because of what this track means to him than for the slightly longer-term impact it would have on his hopes to qualify for his seventh Chase.


"It's cool to be back here at Indy," said Stewart, who maintains a couple properties relatively close to Indianapolis. "Haven't got to go home, but at least we're close. I spend a lot of time here in Indianapolis. This is obviously a place that's special to us from the race standpoint and the facility.


"It's the kickoff of the Sprint Showdown, too, which is really cool. A driver and a fan has a chance to win $1 million [at Atlanta if they qualify by winning one of the races between now and then]. That's something that us drivers -- we never need too many incentives, we always want to race for the trophy, but to race for our foundation is something we want to strive for, too {a third million-dollar payoff goes to the charity of the winning driver's choice]. Pretty excited about it."


But on Friday, not as much as he was about the Outlaw win.


"He talks about it all the time," Newman said of his history of discussing the possibility of winning an Outlaws race with Stewart, who's a fellow USAC open-wheel champion. "I don't know if he told you this, but he left Daytona and drove the hauler all the way back to the shop in Columbus [Ind.] after the 500.


"He's a racer at heart. Obviously he's my teammate and my friend and a great businessman, but he's a racer first and foremost. If there's a race track to be at, to watch, to race -- he's there. That's the kind of teammate that I love and appreciate."


Newman could've been speaking for Stewart when he told what a win at Indy means -- especially to he and Stewart.


"It's the home state, that's the biggest part -- the history of the speedway," Newman said. "Gasoline Alley, the [yard of] bricks [at the start/finish line], all the greats that have raced in any form of motorsports at the apeedway; that, to me is the history and the reason that it's so important to me to win here."


For his part, Stewart was still soaking in the joy of his latest triumph, one of five Sprint Car races he'd run since the last Sprint Cup race, on July 17 at New Hampshire.


"It was awesome," Stewart said of Ohsweken. "It's not like I've done it eight or 10 years -- I still haven't done a lot of it; I don't know how many races in the World of Outlaws I've run. It's still a big deal to me, and people don't realize how important it is because they think that we've raced Indy cars and NASCAR -- winning a World of Outlaws race wouldn't mean too much.

"But it ranks right up there. To finally win one of those and run against the best Sprint Cars guys in the country -- Sammy Swindell, Jason Meyers, Steve Kinser. We just had a great night -- a perfect night. And to have your name in the record books with some of the greatest Sprint Car drivers of all time was something that's definitely high on my list of accomplishments, for sure."


Stewart gave a peek into the whirlwind life he leads, saying he'd won at Ohsweken on Wednesday night, worked as a team owner for his USAC open-wheel cars at Lucas Oil Raceway on Thursday night, then his media appearance "was the fifth of sixth things I have to do [Friday] morning before I ever get in a race car.


"I haven't had a chance to think about what's next on the list of lifetime racing achievements I might want to accomplish."


Take it to the bank, winning a third Brickyard 400 to go with the ones he's already pocketed in 2005 and '07, would be near the top of that list.


Finishing second behind Newman at New Hampshire was a positive check mark, but not the last one they need to make.


"We had an awesome weekend at Loudon, but it doesn't turn a whole season around in one weekend," Stewart reiterated what he'd said in New England two weeks ago. "Hopefully if we can have a good weekend here, maybe we can get that feeling we're onto something, building momentum.


"It was great to have the weekend that we had there and then have a weekend off to concentrate and get regrouped and get ready for what we're doing now. It was definitely big momentum for the organization."


Stewart and Newman were relatively consistent in Friday's two Cup practices, with Newman situated a little higher in the order in each. Things come into sharper focus Saturday, when a single 10 a.m. ET practice precedes qualifying at 2:10 p.m. local time.
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