Ford unveiled their new 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car on Thursday afternoon in Michigan but Tony Stewart made comments that sent shockwaves through the racing community. Stewart, while having a big role in the unveiling, discussed a potential return to an INDYCAR seat in the very near future.
That just shows you how popular the Verizon IndyCar Series is becoming.
Stewart, now an owner in NASCAR, is powered by Ford. The manufacturer isn’t involved in INDYCAR anymore. But on such a big day for them, Stewart is discussing INDYCAR.
While this isn’t a new topic for Stewart, his answer is though. His response actually leads me to believe that there is a very realistic chance for him returning for the Indianapolis 500 in the very near future.
“If I go, I’m not going just to run it,” said Stewart on Thursday. “I don’t want to be a sideshow like Danica (Patrick) was at Indy this year. If I go, I want to go feeling like I’ve got the same opportunity to win that everyone else in the field does.”
When he announced his NASCAR retirement in 2015, he was asked if the Indy 500 would be on the table again in the future. His response?
He’s stayed true to that tune ever since as most people have just resigned to the fact that Stewart’s driving days in the Indy 500 were over and have since turned their focus on his possible role as an owner. Now, he’s acknowledging that there’s a chance he could return.
The last two years, Stewart has been a sponsor on a car driven by Jay Howard. It would be easy for him to use the sponsorship on himself for whenever he’d like to run. But, if he were to run, he has one condition, he’s going to run another INDYCAR race or two to prepare himself.
“It’s an insult to the guys who do it every week to show up and think you’re going to be as good as those guys are,” Stewart continued. “They’re on their game. They know their cars. They know how they need their cars to feel in practice to be good in the race. It’s foolish to think you can just show up and be competitive and have a shot to win.”
Stewart’s best Indy 500 performance came in 1997 when he finished fifth with Team Menard. He started on the pole in 1996 but finished a disappointing 24th after having car issues. Then, in 1998, he started fourth and looked like the man to beat in the early portions of the race before his engine expired leaving him with a last place 33rd place finish.
His last two 500 starts came as part of the “double” as he ran the 500 during the day and the Coca-Cola 600 at night in Charlotte. He finished in the top 10 in both races in the two years he tried with his best result coming in the final try in 2001 when he came home sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte.
He’s the only driver to this day still to complete all 1,100-miles in one day.
“One race might not be enough to feel like you’re where you need to be,” he said. “But at least little things like pit stops and having that much duration of time in the seat to make sure no points or parts of the seat are pinching things when you’re only in it for 10 minutes you don’t notice, but two hours you notice it. Those are things to sort out once you get there.”
Stewart made another “sideshow” jab at Danica again later on in the conversation but said that if he is going to race in the ‘500, it’s because “if I do it, I’m doing it because I want to win the race.”
Stewart went even further to the reporters to say that while he’s “retired” from NASCAR, he’s racing more now than all of his drivers that driver for him. He said that has actually made him an even better race car driver and why he’s not ruling out a return to Indy.
“I feel every night I’m in a car, we’re better. Our performance is better. We’ve already ran 62 races this year. We’re much better than we were last year. The more I race, the better I get. Even on days we’re off, I’m learning things that will help down the road. It’s just getting back in that rhythm again and finally starting to get confidence back as a driver, and feel like I’m ready to start doing some stuff.”
Stewart closed it saying this, which leads me to believe that this is very real.
“Everything’s a possibility,” he said. “There’s nothing I’ve written off and said, ‘You know what, I’m never doing it.’ Everything is an opportunity still. I’m getting anxious to do stuff again.”
The Indy 500 should already seen a uptick in the car count for next year but now add Stewart to the mix.