Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Back Seat Driver: WWTSD? What WILL Tony Stewart Do?

Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
If you're reading this, chances are you've already heard about what happened at the Sprint Cup banquet Friday night. Who wore what, whether Howie Mandel did a good job, and who had issues reading the teleprompter...you've probably read the reviews and heard the discussions. And you probably know that at some point on Monday, the celebration began to fade from memory and give way to the single burning question: WWTSD?

What Will Tony Stewart Do?

Just in case you were out of the country or just haven't been paying attention, Roger Penske gave an eloquent and emotional speech in acceptance of his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship on Friday night. The Captain hit all the right notes and sounded like the championship owner he is. But tucked away in his mentions of other team owners was an offer that caught the imagination of NASCAR Nation - as well as the world of IndyCar.

"You're a car owner, you and Gene (Haas), you're a race driver, you're a track promoter. How about doing the double at Indy this year? Are you available?"

Stewart laughed, but for someone as outspoken as Smoke usually is, he's been quiet about the offer which, according to Penske is a legitimate one. "If he wants to do the Double, I'd put him in it," the Captain said in the post-banquet media availability. "We've talked about it before; I guess I made it official tonight."

For the newer fans out there, the "Double" means running both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. It's not a new concept - John Andretti and Robby Gordon have done it, and Stewart did it in 1999 and 2001, not long after he came to NASCAR from what was then the Indy Racing League. Neither Gordon nor Andretti were serious threats to win either race, much less both of them, but Stewart, the 1997 IRL champion, had a legitimate shot at visiting victory lane in two iconic races in the same day.

The logistics alone are daunting - 1100 miles of driving in one day, traveling from Indiana to North Carolina, sponsorship, qualifying, weather - but it can be done and while there are other drivers whose experience would make them candidates for the effort, none would bring the publicity that Stewart would, regardless of how well they drive.
  
If anyone knows where Stewart stands on the matter, they're not talking. Steve Addington, crew chief for the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy, says he doesn't know. On his regular call to SiriusXM NASCAR's The Morning Drive, Addington said, "All the stars would have to line up for that to happen." He expressed that the main difficulty would be making that decision now while looking ahead at where the team would be at that point in the Cup season. He didn't rule it out, though. "If he wants to do it, everyone here would back him on it," Addington said. "It would be exciting to see happen, but I'll leave those decisions up to the powers that be." 

The Captain, whose IndyCar teams have scored 15 Indianapolis 500 wins since 1969, more than any other owner, offered Tony Stewart possibly the best opportunity he will ever have to win the race that he's dreamed of winning since he was a kid growing up in Indiana. Stewart has said that he's given up on that dream, but a serious public offer from Penske has to give him pause. 

The Indy Star reports that Indianapolis Motor Speedway might be willing to move the start time of the Indy 500 to better accommodate the effort of a driver to run both races. Curt Cavin reports, "IMS CEO Jeff Belskus said Tuesday the 500’s starting time could be moved up an hour -- from noon to 11 a.m. -- so it’s easier to get to Charlotte, N.C., for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series race, the Coca-Cola 600." Cavin quoted Belskus as saying, “It’s a conversation we’d be willing to have,”

The track's website also has a petition for fans to sign in the effort to get "Smoke2Indy."
 
In addition, the network that broadcasts the Indy 500, ABC/ESPN, has expressed support for the effort. According to USA Today,  Julie Sobieski, ESPN VP of programming and acquistions said "ABC/ESPN would enthusiastically support the opportunity for said driver(s) to participate in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. We have strong partnerships with the league and speedway"

There's not been much said from the NASCAR side, but it doubtful that Charlotte Motor Speedway president Marcus Smith, Bruton's son, wouldn't be on board with kind of spectacle that Smoke doing the Double would be. The additional attention that a potential Indy 500 winner would bring to the Coke 600 has to be attractive.
 
So what are the obstacles?

Smoke hasn't hasn't been in an IndyCar in years - probably since 2001. The cars have changed dramatically since then. When he won his championship in 1997, the series was divided and the season was only 10 races long. In fact, he only ran 26 IRL races total, including the Doubles. In '99 he finished ninth at Indy and fourth at Charlotte, where he led 13 laps. In '01 at Indy he was sixth, leading 13 laps, and third at Charlotte. So while he didn't win either race, he certainly was competitive in both races. And lest you think he's forgotten how to drive an open-wheel car, just check out his "Seat Swap" with F1's Lewis Hamilton.

Stewart turns 42 next May. It's been 12 years since he attempted the Double and the last time he did it, he was drained by the experience. But he's as competitive as he ever was, races dozens of sprint and World of Outlaw races in addition to his Sprint Cup schedule, and can afford the best personal trainer to get him in shape.

He finished ninth in points in the 2012 season, not exactly the followup he wanted for his title defense. He's got sponsors to please and a company to run. His Stewart-Haas stable expands to three full-time teams next season. There's talk of him running a truck at the race at his track in Eldora in July, and he's likely to have some responsibilities in the planning of that event. So Smoke's schedule doesn't exactly have many gaps in it.

So many things could go wrong. Bad weather at Indy. Heaven forbid, a crash and injury at the Brickyard. Delays in transportation between the two tracks. The list goes on.

All those details are simply that, details. It doesn't matter how good for either series it would be for Stewart to run the Double. It doesn't matter who thinks he should run it or who thinks he shouldn't. The logistics don't matter nor do the potential pitfalls.

The bottom line is this: how badly does Tony Stewart want to win the Indianapolis 500?

It's just that simple. If Smoke wants to try one more time badly enough, he's got the means to make it happen. The window of opportunity for him to have a realistic shot at a victory is rapidly closing. He's got an IRL championship, two USAC championships, three NASCAR championships. He's won World of Outlaw races, the Chili Bowl, and has two Brickyard 400 wins - but for that boy from Indiana, having his face on the Borg Warner Trophy for winning the Indianapolis 500 is the holy grail of his career, and the Captain offers him the best possible opportunity to realize his dream.

So, it truly does boil down to this: WWTSD?

3 comments :

The Indy 500 is a life long dream for Tony. In all honesty, I think that people need to let him digest the information and the opportunity. It's a very difficult thing to give up on a dream. Usually you end up for the rest of your life saying what if. No one wants that for Tony.

If anyone is capable of doing the double it's Stewart. With private planes and helicopters the travel hiccups are minimal. The real issues are time and the intangibles. Times of the races. And the intangible and unthinkable possible injury. Lets not forget this is the man that left NASCAR tracks all season long and went to dirt tracks to race winged sprints, Big Block Modifieds, and even a return to the Non Wing series. So the travel logistics are really not an issue for him he does it all the time now.

I have heard all the weight issues etc. That is BS. If you have never seen TK you don't get that but TK is a big dude. The skill set required to drive the car is there. It's like riding a bike you don't forget. It will take a few sessions to find out what the car wants to do and then a few more for him to communicate with the crew and engineers on how to bring his comfort level and the cars to the same place.

I hope, frankly that Tony gives serious consideration to his answer. Top class rides in INDY Car do not come around frequently for drivers outside the series. This is a top notch ride something he hasn't really had in the past when he tried. He has a comfort zone in NASCAR with Addington and Zippy. It could well be that this would be the perfect opportunity for the man called Smoke to add his name to the record books one more time as the Indy 500 winner and the Coke 600 winner on the same day. Lord knows one of those is an incredible feat but both? Dang! He has pulled off those feats his whole career. See 1995 and the Triple Crown.

What ever Smoke decides to do it is a sure thing that his faithful Smoke Pit and the rest of the world as well will watch and cheer him on.

And it has now become a mute point. This was released by AP at the IMIS show a little bit ago.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Tony Stewart has passed up a chance to race for Roger Penske in the Indianapolis 500.

The three-time NASCAR champion said Wednesday at the International Motorsports Industry Show that he wouldn't attempt to race in both the Indy 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

Penske extended the invitation last week in Las Vegas while accepting the Sprint Cup trophy. Later, when given the chance to shrug it off as a lighthearted moment with Stewart, Penske insisted he was very serious.

There has been a push to get Stewart to race in Indianapolis since Penske made the offer, with Indianapolis Motor Speedway starting an online petition for fans to encourage the driver to accept the ride.

Stewart has raced five times in the Indy 500, starting from the pole as a rookie in 1996 and leading 44 laps before his engine failed. His highest finish was fifth in 1997.

The Indiana native twice ran both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. In 1999, he was ninth at Indy and fourth at Charlotte, and in 2001, he was sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte.

Penske-owned cars have won the Indianapolis 500 15 times.

I heard about that on my way home. I completely understand why he would choose not to do it, especially with the truck race at Eldora for the first time this season, which is another "dream come true" for him - and that's a direct quote. I don't think the window has closed for Smoke.
And I have seen both Tony and TK up close...TK can MOVE! While the other IndyCar drivers were riding around on their scooters, TK took off running down pit road. Well, as much as you can run on pit road pre-race.

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