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Tony could have driven for Hendrick in 1997

Fri May 13, 2011 8:14 am

Stewart could had drove for Hendrick...in 1997: When Tony Stewart was a hot prospect in the IndyCar Series, Rick Hendrick (whose Hendrick Motorsports team was in the midst of four consecutive Sprint Cup championships from 1995-98) offered him a full-time ride in the Nationwide Series for the 1997 season. Stewart (who had run eight races in NASCAR's second-tier series) declined because he felt his experience didn't merit the ride. "I just didn't want to make that move too soon and not succeed and lose that opportunity," Stewart said. "As hard as it was, I thanked him and didn't accept that offer. I knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime. It's the first time I ever was in a situation I had to turn somebody down." It might have turned out for the best. Stewart won the 1997 IndyCar championship, joined Joe Gibbs Racing and won two Cup titles. When he decided to buy into Stewart-Haas Racing two years ago, the deal united him with Hendrick.(USA Today)(5-13-2011)

Re: Tony could have driven for Hendrick in 1997

Fri May 13, 2011 9:14 am

The Full Article


CHARLOTTE — How do you turn down the most powerful team owner in NASCAR?

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One of the most talented drivers in NASCAR once did — and a great friendship still eventually blossomed from it.

When Tony Stewart was a hot prospect in the IndyCar Series, Rick Hendrick (whose Hendrick Motorsports team was in the midst of four consecutive Sprint Cup championships from 1995-98) offered him a full-time ride in the Nationwide Series for the 1997 season.

Stewart (who had run eight races in NASCAR's second-tier series) declined because he felt his experience didn't merit the ride.

"I just didn't want to make that move too soon and not succeed and lose that opportunity," Stewart said. "As hard as it was, I thanked him and didn't accept that offer. I knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime. It's the first time I ever was in a situation I had to turn somebody down."

It might have turned out for the best. Stewart won the 1997 IndyCar championship, joined Joe Gibbs Racing and won two Cup titles.

When he decided to buy into Stewart-Haas Racing two years ago, the deal united him with Hendrick, who already supplied the team's chassis and engines and warmly welcomed Stewart into the fold of his Chevrolet organization.

"I think Rick understood what my theory was and why I did it," said Stewart, who won in his first start in a Hendrick car (a Nationwide race at Daytona in February 2009). "In the long run, he's always respected that. In a certain degree, it's made full circle. It's nice to be working with him. It's something that's been a long time coming."

"We're about as close as you can get now," Hendrick said during a charity news conference Wednesday at Levine Children's Hospital, where Stewart donated $50,000 in Hendrick's name. "He's a good friend and great ambassador to the sport. His actions off the track speak for how big his heart is."

Their rapport, though, is more about playful barbs than altruistic gestures. Before leaving the hospital Wednesday, Stewart ribbed Hendrick about bringing Ben and Jerry along to his next visit to the gym. Stewart, who has made the Chase for the Sprint Cup the past two seasons since becoming a driver-owner and is ranked seventh entering Sunday's FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway, laughs that Hendrick often calls to give him "a bunch of crap."

"There's hardly a conversation we have where we're not laughing," he said. "A lot of the conversations are like father-son, and my father and I give each other a hard time like Rick and I do. I like that. For how business-oriented our relationship is, we find a way to make it fun, too."

Re: Tony could have driven for Hendrick in 1997

Fri May 13, 2011 10:14 am

Barry Green - Champ Car owner - also wanted him for his KOOL-sponsored CART team and Darrell Waltrip wanted him for his Winston Cup effort before he had to sell it.

Re: Tony could have driven for Hendrick in 1997

Fri May 13, 2011 10:43 am

Smoke14TS wrote:Barry Green - Champ Car owner - also wanted him for his KOOL-sponsored CART team and Darrell Waltrip wanted him for his Winston Cup effort before he had to sell it.








They sure knew talent when they saw it. Thanks for the info.

Re: Tony could have driven for Hendrick in 1997

Fri May 13, 2011 10:55 am

<snicker>

Re: Tony could have driven for Hendrick in 1997

Fri May 13, 2011 11:46 am

One never really knows where the best place will be. Just make a choice and believe in it. If Jeff Gordon hadn't been around would Jimmie Johnson be where he is today? I don't think Tony is a "what if" person. If Bobby LaBonte hadn't left Joe Gibbs for Richard Petty perhaps he could have had more championships but we don't have a crystal ball to help us choose what is best for us. I think Tony made the right choice as I don't think Hendricks could have done for Tony what Joe Gibbs did those first few years. Also add Zippadelli to that combination.

Re: Tony could have driven for Hendrick in 1997

Fri May 13, 2011 11:53 am

ndunn wrote:One never really knows where the best place will be. Just make a choice and believe in it. If Jeff Gordon hadn't been around would Jimmie Johnson be where he is today? I don't think Tony is a "what if" person. If Bobby LaBonte hadn't left Joe Gibbs for Richard Petty perhaps he could have had more championships but we don't have a crystal ball to help us choose what is best for us. I think Tony made the right choice as I don't think Hendricks could have done for Tony what Joe Gibbs did those first few years. Also add Zippadelli to that combination.


It's very interesting to find out stuff and look back. I found out this week that Tommy Baldwin almost became Jeff Gordon's crew chief after Ray Evernham left in September 1999, who knows what that could have led to.

Re: Tony could have driven for Hendrick in 1997

Sat May 14, 2011 12:42 pm

I like looking back at NASCAR but sometimes it turns out "what were they thinking?". But that is life and that isn't laid out with directions. One guy I think got fowled up due to his owner was Johnny Benson. He's a Michigan guy so I've always followed him with high hopes for his career. He is a decent man who looks out for others and is true to his sport. It's too bad the same thing wasn't done for him. We could single out so many guys for "what if's" but we know who the leading 45 or so are. It's a colorful sport so we should protect what we have. I personally like to read about those that made this sport but then I was around when all of this started. My roots are dirt track watching so places like Eldora is famililar and makes me think back to the days when the owners towed their race car behind the pick up or hauled them on a small flatbed.
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