A native of Columbus, Ind., Tony Stewart was a purist when it came to Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosting anything other than the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indy 500.
So, it didn’t sit well with Stewart two decades ago when speedway officials swung open the doors of the fabled Brickyard to NASCAR’s snarling stock cars for the first Sprint Cup race at Indy.
“The first time they came, I’ll be honest, I was 100 percent against it,’’ said Stewart. “When you grow up in the state of Indiana, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the Holy Grail to you. You know, I didn’t want to see anything different come to it. To me, it was the Indy 500 and that’s all it was supposed to be.’’
Stewart, whose open-wheel roots could be traced back to the dirt tracks of the Midwest, chased that Holy Grail, racing in the Indy 500 five times. He made his first career start from the pole in 1996 when pole-sitter Scott Brayton was killed during a practice session.
Stewart’s best result was fifth place in 1997, which helped catapult him to the Indy Racing League title. After his career path took him to NASCAR, Stewart returned to Indy in 2001 to pull double-duty, driving in the Indy 500 for Chip Ganassi Racing and in the Coca-Cola 600 for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Stewart wound up sixth in what would be his last Indy 500.
Slowly but surely, Stewart’s staunch opposition to stock cars running at the Brickyard began to erode.
“You know, after watching the first race, the second year I was kind of on the fence,’’ he said. “By the third year, I was a fan of it. Luckily, my career path, I mean, it’s allowed me to come race [at Indy] every year.’’
It also afforded him the opportunity to win at Indy, something he was never able to do in an Indy car. When the Sprint Cup series resumes next weekend for the 20th anniversary of the Brickyard 400, Stewart will be on hand to celebrate his victories there in 2005 and ’07, when he drove the No. 20 Chevrolet.
“It was everything to me,’’ Stewart said, when asked how meaningful his Brickyard 400 triumphs were to him. “My whole life, since I was a kid, that’s what I wanted to do. Not that I had some fascination with kissing bricks as a child, but my fascination to do it [at Indy] was pretty obsessive.’’
Now, it seems, Stewart has changed his outlook on the growth of Indy’s inventory of race events.
“Now with Formula One [having] come in, Moto GP, the Grand-Am Series, Nationwide cars running here, I think the mind-set has changed that it’s too historic of a speedway to run one race a year on it,’’ he said. “To be able to bring so many great different series and divisions here, it’s pretty neat that a lot of people get the honor to race at Indy now.’’
After he called Ryan Newman an “ogre’’ and “the biggest stupid idiot out here’’ following last week’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch backtracked the following day from comments he made to ESPN.com surrounding Newman’s involvement in a four-car accident that took out older brother Kurt Busch on Lap 226 of the 302-lap affair.
Kyle Busch, who finished runner-up to surprise winner Brian Vickers last weekend, seethed when his brother, who dropped from ninth in the points to 14th after starting second and finishing 31st, had his chances at a win wiped out by the wreck with Newman, who learned last Wednesday this would be his last season in the No. 39 Chevrolet fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing.
“I mean, Ryan Newman is the biggest stupid idiot out here,’’ Busch fumed. “And he’s a big ogre and he can do whatever he wants because he can probably kick anybody’s butt, so no sense in getting into a fight with him. But glad he is out of a job.’’
The following day, Busch posted an explanation on his Twitter account.
“This isn’t the first time that I’ve been raced poorly by RN, either, which added to my frustration,’’ Busch said. “All this built up and allowed my emotions to spill over for how I felt. I’m not sorry for how I feel in those moments, but could have expressed it better, and certainly my comments about someone’s livelihood went too far.’’
During an interview on SiriusXM NASCAR radio, Newman responded to Busch’s comments: “We know he’s not very bright. He’s a heck of a talent, but not very bright.”
High traffic area
Austin Dillon, the grandson of NASCAR car owner Richard Childress, will have a full plate coming up, competing in four national series races in eight days for his grandfather’s team. On Sunday, Dillon, ranked third in the standings, will drive in the Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway. On Wednesday, he’ll compete in the inaugural Camping World Truck Series race at the famed dirt track at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, then head to Indianapolis to drive in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at the Brickyard July 27 and 28. “I’ve been working hard to do whatever it takes to make sure I’m in shape and at the best of my ability when it comes to competition,’’ Dillon said. “I’m just looking forward to it. I love racing. I’ve been out dirt racing the last few weeks during the week [to prepare for Eldora] and then flying to the racetrack. Any time I can be in a racecar, I’m happy.’’ . . . Reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski appeared on TBS’s “Sullivan & Son” Thursday, as himself in an episode in which he gets into a fender bender with another character after he’s unable to successfully parallel park his car outside the family bar. “It was fun to step out of the fire suit and make fun of my driving skills for a little bit,’’ Keselowski said.
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com. Material from personal interviews, wire services, sanctioning bodies, track publicity departments, race teams, sponsors, and manufacturers was used in this report.