Southsider Voice correspondent
It’s a good thing that Tony Stewart exudes confidence when he races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway because the two-time Brickyard 400 champion has yet to qualify for The Chase, NASCAR’s version of an in-season playoff.
The Hoosier native has not won a race this season and is 19th in Sprint Cup points, 46 points from 16th place, which could be one of the final positions to make The Chase field of 16 to be determined Sept. 6 at Richmond, Va.
“When you grow up 45 minutes from Indy, the IMS is sacred ground. It always has been to me and always will be,” Stewart said Monday during a NASCAR teleconference. “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. It’s just a matter of doing it.”
He returns to the IMS in a newly built No. 14 Mobil I/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, which replaces the Chevrolet he damaged last month during Goodyear tire tests.
Stewart raced in five Indianapolis 500s with a best finish of fifth in 1997. The IndyCar Series champion upset open-wheel traditionalists when he moved to NASCAR, which had invaded the Speedway in 1984.
“It was a crime initially,” said Stewart, a self-described purist. “I was actually in Illinois the day that the Brickyard (first) ran, and when I got back and saw the replay of the race it was very evident that this was something that wasn’t breaking religion, so to speak, or sacrilegious for it to be there. It really showed why NASCAR belonged there.”
Since joining the Cup ranks in 1999, Stewart has won 48 races, including the Brickyard in 2005 and ’07. He and industrialist Gene Haas own a team that also features Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick.
Stewart, 43, has not won a Cup race since June 2, 2013, at Dover, Del. He missed the final 15 of last year after being severely injured in a sprint car accident in Iowa. He returned to Cup action this year.
He returned to sprint car action Friday by winning the feature on a dirt track in Auburn, Mich., where he raced with a new safety tether system to keep the torque tube from coming through the bottom of the cockpit. He finished third the next night at a different dirt track.
Sunday at the Brickyard, the Hoosier-born champion would like nothing better than to win his first race of 2014 in a Chevrolet that is vastly different than the one that then-teammate Ryan Newman won with last year.
“It’s a new car, a new package,” Stewart said. “The cars are so sensitive now. It’s literally still a week-to-week project trying to learn the new setups, the new rules package and what you have to do to be competitive with it.”
The Indianapolis Speedrome midget series “graduate” is a walking conglomerate – co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and owner of Eldora Speedway, car owner of World of Outlaw winged sprints driver Steve Kinser of Bloomington and points leader Donny Schatz, plus Smoke BBQ sauce and collectibles shop.