Sat Jul 30, 2011 10:14 am
INDIANAPOLIS – Native Hoosier Tony Stewart hopes to add a third Brickyard 400 trophy to his collection in Sunday’s 18th annual race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Kissing the bricks for the third time in his career would be the absolute perfect homecoming for the Columbus, Indiana resident.
“It’s my home race, obviously,” Stewart said. “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 when you grow up in Indiana, it just makes it that much more important.”
While Stewart will make his 21st career start at Indianapolis which includes five appearances in the Indy 500, he’s been coming to the famed track a lot longer. Stewart’s early memories of IMS include his family’s involvement in the sport and the simple passion of being a race fan.
“I came with my father,” Stewart said of his first trip to Indy. “We were in some bus that had a luggage rack in the top of it. You had to get up at o-dark-30 to get on the bus to ride up to Indy for race day. They threw me up in the luggage rack. Somebody gave me a pillow and everybody started throwing their jackets on top of me to keep me warm. The ride home wasn’t nearly as cool, because after a long day at the track, everybody but my dad and I were kind of rowdy.
“I was probably 5 years old. We sat in turns three and four. We were two rows up, right in the middle of the short chute. The hard thing was you could hardly see anything. The cars were so fast. They were a blur. But to see those cars under caution and smell the methanol fumes and everything, it was still pretty cool.”
Since NASCAR made its debut at the track in 1994, the Brickyard 400 has been considered one of the crown jewels of the sport. The allure and prestige of winning at Indianapolis, whether in an open wheel car or stock car, is something Stewart believes makes any event there special.
“Indy has just been a place where you always have to expect the unexpected,” he said. “It’s always been a racetrack where the guys who are fast all day always end up winning the race. It’s never been a situation where somebody won a race that didn’t earn it and didn’t deserve it. You don’t get anything easy at Indianapolis. You have to earn it, and if you’re off, you’re not going to win. You can’t make something happen there that isn’t supposed to happen.
“So if it’s your day, it’s going to be your day, and if you’re off, you’re not going to make it your day by trying harder. You just have to have everything right. It has to be right.”
Stewart is hoping everything is just right for him on Sunday and he can cross the finish line first. A victory would not only add to his impressive record at Indianapolis but help his effort in this year’s Sprint Cup Series standings.
He enters the Brickyard eleventh in the standings one spot outside the Top 10 positions assured of a Chase berth.
But Stewart would also love to see his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Ryan Newman have a good day on Sunday and would celebrate just as much if it were the No. 39 Chevrolet rolling into victory lane.
“It’s always been a dream to win in Indianapolis, and I’ve been very blessed and fortunate to win it twice now, and that’s something that if I died tomorrow I would die a happy man because of those two races,” Stewart said. “But it would be that much more special to win it as a team owner, too.”