Stewart goes for rare daily double

After Indy 500, he'll run at Charlotte

if he finishes, total mileage is 1,100

May 30, 1999|By BOSTON GLOBE

INDIANAPOLIS -- Winning the Indianapolis 500 has been a lifelong dream for Tony Stewart, a home-grown Hoosier from Rushville. But Stewart's budding NASCAR Winston Cup career and his commitment to drive the No. 20 Pontiac for car owner Joe Gibbs at the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, N.C., today posed a conflict with his desire to drive his own car in the 83rd Indianapolis 500.

Until Gibbs came up with a solution: Why not drive in both races?

"When I signed my contract with him two years ago, Joe actually was the one that brought up the Indianapolis 500," said Stewart, 28. "I didn't even bring it up. He said, `I know how much of a dream it is for you to run Indy, and I want you to be able to do that as long as you like to.' So I guess that's what his involvement is; it's his willingness to let me come here and run this race."

With Gibbs' blessing and support, Stewart will attempt to run a grueling marathon by driving in the Indy 500 during the afternoon and the Coca-Cola 600 that evening. Talk about May Madness. CART driver Robby Gordon and Roberto Moreno will also pull double duty this weekend by driving in the Motorola 300 CART race in Madison, Ill., then starting in the Indy 500.

But their whirlwind weekend will not compare to Stewart's, who will attempt to turn his double play on the same day.

Today, Stewart will pilot the No. 22 Aurora-powered Dallara he co-owns with Tri-Sports Motorsports partners Larry Curry and Andy Card and start 24th in the 33-car Indy field. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Stewart will climb out of his Indy car after completing 500 miles, fly by charter jet to Charlotte, climb into his Winston Cup car, start from the rear of the field, and drive another 600 miles.

Total mileage for the day: 1,100.

"To be honest, I don't know how difficult it's going to be," said Stewart, who successfully completed a dry run last weekend when he overcame a one-hour rain delay, qualified for Indy with a four-lap average of 220.653 miles per hour, then flew to Charlotte, where he won The Winston Open qualifying race and finished second to Terry Labonte in The Winston all-star race. "Because I've never done it before."

The last driver to run both races was John Andretti in 1994.

But Stewart would be the first to complete all 1,100 miles.

"I was pretty worried when I went to bed Saturday night," recalled Andretti, who finished 10th in the 1994 Indy 500, then flew by private jet to Charlotte and, though he qualified ninth, was forced to start at the rear of the field because he was unable to attend a mandatory drivers meeting.

Andretti wound up 36th when he dropped out after 220 laps with a cracked shaft.

"The weird thing was, I usually go to bed worrying about the race car," Andretti said. "That night, all I worried about was the weather. I was worried that it might rain in Indianapolis and it might not rain in Charlotte. A rain delay in Indy was going to make it really tough to make the start of the race in Charlotte. A rain delay in Charlotte, at least at the start, was going to make it a little easier.

"When I woke up Sunday morning and saw the sun shining in Indianapolis, I was pretty relieved. I knew then we could pull it off and get everything done. We could run all day at Indianapolis and still have time to make the race at Charlotte. Once I saw that sunshine, race day became the easiest part of the whole deal."

Ah, the weather. It can be unpredictable here at this time of year.

When Stewart awoke last Saturday morning for pole day at Indy, he was greeted by rainy skies which caused a one-hour delay in the start of time trials. It was an hour Stewart, on a tight schedule, could not afford to lose.

Fortunately, Stewart drew the No. 2 spot in the qualifying lineup and was the second to take the track for a qualifying attempt and first to make the field. He wasted little time in departing Indy, driving a police-escorted van to the airport, where Gibbs' private jet was waiting to whisk him to Charlotte.

He was airborne at 12: 50 p.m., just 40 minutes before Curry's self-imposed deadline of 1: 30.

"My attitude about his whole two weeks is that it's going to be an unforgettable two weeks of my life that I've enjoyed thoroughly," Stewart said. "So I'm just enjoying it right now."

It is but a small price to pay for a boyhood dream.

"There's a lot of races that are important to me that I still want to try and win in my lifetime," Stewart said. "But I would say that if I could only guarantee that I was going to win one of them, this would be the one that I would pick. You know, it's the most important race of my life."

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