Tony Stewart plans to repeat 1,100-mile feat in just 10 hours

Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2001

CONCORD, N.C. -- When Tony Stewart was dragged from the driver's seat of his Pontiac two years ago after racing 1,100 miles, he swore he'd never again try to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the same driver who maintains a bizarre cycle of tirades and apologies didn't mean what he said.

The lure of Indy remains too powerful for the stock car driver.

``We want to win Indy," Stewart said during one of his appearances at Lowe's Motor Speedway, site of Sun day's 600-mile stock car mara thon. ``If we can win the 500, I can promise you I'm going to be on such a high that these guys down here (at the 600) won't stand a chance."

Stewart, whose tantrums about fans and the media are as famous as his apologies, knows the Indianap olis 500, for all its allure, is a clear threat to his regular job. He has time tables, travel plans and a special diet to make it all possible, but he knows the greatest ingredient to make it work is pure luck.

One raindrop, one lengthy caution period or one thunderstorm be tween Indianapolis and the Char lotte, N.C., area could be disastrous to his job on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

``We've got a deadline time of what time I'm getting out of the car, and we're not telling everybody what time that is, because we don't want everybody looking at their watch," Stewart said. ``I've got to make sure that I get out of here in time to start this (600-mile) race."

When Stewart attempted the rare doubleheader two years ago, he finished ninth at Indy and fourth at Char lotte.

Then, he nearly passed out from fatigue.

Time management worked out perfectly that day, and he arrived at Lowe's Motor Speedway with 15 minutes to spare.

This year's stock car race, however, is scheduled for a 5:45 p.m. start. Two years ago, it started at 6:30. That eliminates 45 minutes from a schedule that had only a 15-minute cushion two years ago.

Stewart said IndyCar owner Chip Ganassi, who won last year's 500 with driver Juan Montoya, would have a backup driver ready in the pits when Stewart's bewitching hour arrives. But will he really get out, especially if he's in position to win?

``Tony made it clear that he wanted to keep his options open for driving in the Indianapolis 500, and we agreed that we would help him reach his goal," said Joe Gibbs, his car own er on the Winston Cup Series. ``In case of conflicts, Tony's No. 1 responsibility will be the No. 20 Home Depot (stock car) and the Coca-Cola 600. We have made arrangements to assure that Tony will start the Winston Cup race."

Stewart will drive his Pontiac Grand Prix in a final practice session at Charlotte on Saturday morning be-fore returning to Indianapolis that after noon for a personal appearance.

To make both races Sunday, he will need a helicopter to take him from the raceway to the airport, a jet to get to Concord, N.C., and another helicopter to get him to Lowe's Motor Speedway.

``We've got backup helicopters, backup planes; we've got the whole thing ready," Gibbs said. ``We even had a call from a general, who had us looking into an F-16 to fly him to Charlotte and then parachute him out. We didn't tell Tony because he probably would have done it."

NASCAR rules are clear on late-arriving drivers.

First, the car must be on the track when the green flag waves. Second, the driver who drives the first lap is the driver of record.

Stewart collapsed after at tempt ing the doubleheader two years ago. He said he's learned from his mistakes and has been in training for this year's marathon.

He hired trainer Al Shufford to get him better prepared for the rigors of racing two main events in a 10-hour period. No more hamburgers. No more soft drinks. No more pizza.

John Andretti and Robby Gordon also have completed the Indy-Char lotte doubleheader. But none, including Stewart's attempt in 1999, featured the very real opportunity to win either race, much less both.

Stewart is driving for one of the most powerful race teams in Indy Car racing, and he's become a proven winner in stock cars.

``I want to win both of them," Stewart said. ``I want to win every race I get in, so my effort is going to be to win both races in one day."

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