Cup Series driver Tony Stewart (14) climbs into the
car during practice for the Brickyard 400 NASCAR auto
race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in
Indianapolis, Friday, July 22, 2016.
— When Tony Stewart dreamed about winning at Indianapolis
Motor Speedway, he never contemplated saying goodbye.
can't find the words.
Stewart prepares for his final Brickyard 400, he's brushing
aside any talk about nostalgic reflections so he can focus
instead on making one more trip to victory lane.
guys can ask me all about how I'm feeling, thinking,
whatever but you're wasting my time and your time," he
said before Friday's practice began. "All I care about
is driving that race car right now. It is probably the most
focused I've been getting ready for a race. I'm not amped
up, or anything like that. I'm just really relaxed and
focused and feel good going into it."
Try as he
might to downplay it, this is not just another race or just
another track for Stewart.
where he developed his affinity for dirt tracks and A.J.
Foyt, and where his talent broke through the fierce,
sometimes temperamental moments. It was here at Indianapolis
that he knew he would define his career.
born in Rushville, Indiana, and attending high school in
Columbus, Indiana, Stewart got his first big break when
former IMS CEO Tony George started his own series for
promising American drivers like Stewart, who struggled to
find job openings with IndyCar teams.
quickly emerged as one of the series' bright, young faces by
winning the 1997 series championship. After five seasons and
no Indianapolis 500 wins, Stewart left his home state for
the higher-profile, better-paying NASCAR circuit that turned
him into a megastar.
past 18 seasons, Stewart has made 601 starts, won 49 races
and three Cup championships.
Brickyard wins in 2005 and 2007 were the ones he cherished
most, and picking up No. 50 on his home track would be a
fitting end to a 20-year run at the Brickyard.
would be all right, I guess," Stewart joked. "No,
it would be cool because this is one of the marquee races.
Everybody wants to win here. Definitely, I want to win here
insists he will not take any distractions into Sunday's race
even though the signs are all around that this weekend is
and stepfather sat in the front row of Friday's pre-race
news conference. At the end, he graciously accepted a gift
from speedway president Doug Boles — pieces of the fencing
he climbed after each of his Brickyard wins.
sounded like a throwback to his early IndyCar days when he
routinely responded to questions about track conditions or
just about anything else at Indy with a nonchalant answer
about throwing dirt on the track.
have no clue how many friends and family will be here this
weekend, it was not my responsibility to get them all
here," Stewart said when asked about potential
distractions. "I will see them after the race is over,
but I'm going to go to work here in a minute, and that is
all I care about doing for three days."
weekend has started much like Stewart's season — off
billed as "Farewell Smoke" has been somewhat
overshadowed by Jeff Gordon's comeback bid in the No. 88
car. While his friends are disappointed that Stewart doesn't
have the stage to himself, Stewart embraces it.
from a rugged, injury-plagued start with three top-five
finishes in the last four races, including his first win of
the season at Sonoma, just like he did at Indianapolis.
After finishing 24th on the speed chart with a fast lap of
180.505 mph Friday, he came within a whisker of earning his
second Brickyard 400 pole. He'll start third, right behind
pole winner Kyle Busch, after going 184.328 in qualifying.
seems everyone has embraced the two sentimental favorites
have Tony Stewart in his final race, Jeff Gordon in his
final race - Part 2, it is a big time," four-time
Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson said. "I can only
imagine how loud they are going to be at driver
crazy the fans would get if the 45-year-old Stewart winds up
scaling the fence one more time before focusing on team
Stewart can't quite find the proper description.
not doing all the sentimental, crying stuff you guys think
I'm going to be doing," he said. "I'm going to
race this weekend."