LONDON: The Racing Journal


VALLEY STREAM, N.Y. — At last week’s NASCAR banquet in Las Vegas, Roger Penske stood at the podium and dropped a bit of a bombshell. He suggested that Tony Stewart “do the double” next year, meaning racing at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 on the same day.

The Captain is not a tongue-and-cheek kind of guy or one who draws needless attention to himself. This sounded like a legitimate offer.

Stewart’s career resume is one that ranks him near the top of the all-time great racers list. A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones are the ones most mentioned as the sport’s greatest. They have earned this because they accomplished a lot in many different types of race cars.

In addition to his three NASCAR titles, he is the only one to win the NASCAR Cup under both the old and new (Chase) point systems. Stewart has an IRL championship, the only one to do that also.

In one season he won all three (midget, sprint car and Silver Crown) USAC titles.

He has an IROC championship, too. As a car owner he has titles in both the World of Outlaws and USAC. He has multiple wins at the Knoxville Nationals and promotes Eldora Speedway in Ohio. His latest driving achievement is winning a World of Outlaws sprint car feature. Added to his wingless wins, that is a rare feat.

All that’s missing is a win in the Indianapolis 500. He has run five of them with three top-10 finishes. He was leading one year when his engine blew. Stewart hasn’t driven an Indy car since 2001, but who would doubt him?

Stewart in a Penske car despite a 12-year layoff would be a huge threat at Indy. After all, Penske has 15 Indy 500 wins with 10 different drivers.

Doing the double is a nightmare. Stewart has already done it.

NASCAR does everything possible to make it difficult because its officials hate the Indy 500. Stewart, Robby Gordon and John Andretti, the others who did the double, all were penalized to the rear of the Charlotte field for missing the driver’s meeting. The fact they were busy racing didn’t give them a pass. They could have the meeting while they were en route to Charlotte and attend by cell phone. All the NASCAR meetings are the same anyway.

What keeps NASCAR drivers away from Indy are those precious points. I would suggest Stewart take the day off and put someone else in the stock car and enjoy the day.

It certainly would be possible to make the Chase despite missing a race. Besides, winning races puts one in a wild card spot.

Stewart is an Indiana native. A Hoosier hasn’t won the Indy 500 since Wilbur Shaw in 1940. When Stewart won his first of two Brickyard 400s at the speedway, we saw rare emotion. That race meant more to him than any other.

If Stewart were to win the Indy 500, I would personally rank him as the sport’s best driver ever, as would many others. I hope his ego will push him into this.

The Hulman family would love it. Coming off a great 500 with the biggest crowd in years, A Stewart appearance would fill the place.

The ball is in your court, Smoke. Go for it!