Stewart heading back to 'sacred ground' at the Brickyard

ASSOCIATED PRESS Tony Stewart says that racing at the Brickyard is like going to 'sacred ground.'
ASSOCIATED PRESS Tony Stewart says that racing at the Brickyard is like going to 'sacred ground.'
Posted: July 25, 2014

WHEN TONY Stewart returns to Indianapolis Motor Speedway each summer, it's a special time. Stewart is from Columbus, Ind.; he's raced in the Indy 500 and he's won two Brickyard 400 races.

Adding another Indy victory to his resumé is as important as ever for Stewart. Winning Sunday's Brickyard 400 would be his first W of the year and solidify his place in the Chase. He is 19th in points and has no top-five finishes in his last 14 races.

"When we did the Goodyear test a couple weeks ago, we actually were really good, compared to the guys that tested around us," Stewart said on a conference call this week. "Who knows when we get back here this weekend what we're going to have, but we had a really good car before we blew the tire and crashed it, so hopefully this new car that we're bringing that replaced the one we crashed will be as good as the last one."

Explaining his winless season, Stewart said: "It's a new year. It's a new car, a new rules package. As much as the emphasis is on wins and not points racing, we're kind of in a position where we're close to being in that part of it, as well as where we could get in on points, but a win would solve that."

Stewart, whose 48 career Cup wins are third among active drivers, received a confidence boost when he won a sprint-car race Friday night at Tri-City Motor Speedway in Illinois. It was his first appearance in a sprint car since he broke the fibula and tibia in his right leg in a race last August at Southern Iowa Speedway.

For those who wonder why Stewart, 43, would return to sprint-car racing, he said: "I get the best of both worlds. I get to race with the best stock-car drivers in the world every week, and I get to run dirt tracks in either the off nights, or sometimes, during a Cup weekend, I get to go sneak off for anything.

"But it's two totally different forms of racing. I never was a driver brought up running one type of car and one type of surface. I always ran dirt and pavement.

"I like the dirt tracks because they change all the time. In the Cup series, the groove moves around and it gets wider, and you might run the bottom for a little while and the top, and that's a lot like dirt racing, too. I like that challenge of trying to figure out as a driver what to do to make yourself better.

"It's just what I enjoy doing. Everybody has hobbies, everybody has stuff they like to do when they have down time, and that's just what it is for me. I don't think there is anything wrong with doing it. I feel like there are a lot of other things I could be doing that are a lot more dangerous and a lot bigger waste of time with my time off than doing that."

Each time Stewart races at Indy, it's almost a spiritual experience for him.

"When you grow up 45 minutes from Indy, that is sacred ground to me. It always has been, always will be," said Stewart, who was on his way to Eldora Speedway, a track he owns in Rossburg, Ohio, for last night's Camping World Truck Series race.

"I don't care how many times you win there, it's never enough. It's nice to have won two races already there. That gives you confidence of knowing what you have to do to win."

Montoya back in Cup

Juan Pablo Montoya hasn't had the same Indy experiences as Tony Stewart, but did win the Indy 500 in 2000. Montoya, now back in the IndyCar series, won the pole for the Brickyard race 4 years ago and led the most laps (86) before a late-race accident relegated him to 32nd place.

Montoya is running his second Sprint Cup race of the year for Penske Racing at Sunday's Brickyard 400.

Referring to the race 4 years ago, Greg Erwin, Montoya's crew chief for Indy, said Tuesday that Montoya, Jamie McMurray and Greg Biffle were competing for the victory. Erwin, from Hatboro, was Biffle's crew chief at the time. On the final pit stop, when Montoya and Biffle put on four new tires, McMurray took only two tires and won.

Montoya warmed up for the Brickyard by finishing 18th in the Cup race at Michigan June 15.

"We had a lead-lap finish, which was acceptable," Erwin, Penske's director of competition, said from Penske headquarters in Mooresville, N.C. "Juan was very attentive, very cool. He doesn't want to look bad. I didn't feel any fire or fury known as Juan."

Erwin points out that Montoya's part-time No. 12 Ford unit "is not a functioning team."

"We use guys from the shop and one or two from the test team," he said. "They like getting out [of the shop], but they haven't gone through NASCAR inspections. The [Penske] Nationwide and Cup guys help out as much as they can."

This week's race

John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Course: 2.5-mile oval

Distance: 160 laps/400 miles

Forecast: scattered thunderstorms, low 80s

Last year’s winner: Ryan Newman

Last year’s pole: Newman, 187.531 mph (track qualifying record)

Track facts: Indiana native Ryan Newman led the last 12 laps (45 total) to win last year’s Brickyard 400. Jimmie Johnson was second. He led the most laps (73), but a slow final pit stop cost him. Kasey Kahne was third ... Johnson is tied with Jeff Gordon for most Brickyard wins (four each). Johnson won his four between 2006 and ’12; Gordon’s last Brickyard W was in 2004 ... Other previous Brickyard winners in Sunday’s race are Kevin Harvick (2003), Jamie McMurray (2010) and Paul Menard (2011) ... Indy is the only Cup racing venue where a Toyota driver has not won.

Wins: Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, 3 each; Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, 2 each; Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Aric Almirola, 1 each.

STANDINGS

1. Jeff Gordon 670

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 658

3. Brad Keselowski 634

4. Matt Kenseth 621

5. Jimmie Johnson 598

6. Carl Edwards 574

7. Ryan Newman 573

8. Kyle Busch 567

9. Joey Logano 551

10. Clint Bowyer 548

11. Paul Menard 541

12. Denny Hamlin 530

13. Kevin Harvick 528

14. Kyle Larson 524

15. Austin Dillon 524

16. Greg Biffle 519

Up next: GoBowling.com 400, Aug. 3, Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa., 1 p.m.; TV: ESPN; last year’s winner: Kasey Kahne.

Bill Fleischman


Email: fleiscb@phillynews.com

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