Tony Stewart won’t appear in Indy 500 after NASCAR retirement

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When asked during his NASCAR retirement announcement Wednesday whether he could be expected to make another run at the Indianapolis 500, Tony Stewart gave a definitive answer.

“No.”

The three-time Sprint Cup champion will retire from the series following the 2016 season, but while saying he’s not retiring from racing, he closed the door on making his first appearance in the Indy 500 since 2001.

Stewart, 44, made five appearances in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” from 1996 to 2001, racing for John Menard. Tri-Star Motorsports and Chip Ganassi. He earned the pole in the 1996 race before finishing 24th with engine problems.

In those five starts, the native of Columbus, Ind., and 1997 Indy Racing League Champion led 122 laps and earned his best finish, fifth, in 1997.

In 1999 and 2001, Stewart attempted the “Double” of racing in “500” and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Tony Stewart preparing for his last Indianapolis start in 2001 with Chip Ganassi racing. Mandatory Credit: ROBERT LABERGE/ALLSPORT
Tony Stewart preparing for his last Indianapolis start in 2001 with Chip Ganassi racing.
Mandatory Credit: ROBERT LABERGE/ALLSPORT

In the press conference at Stewart-Haas Racing headquarters, Stewart was asked if he regrets not taking an offer from Roger Penske in 2012 to drive one of his cars in the Indy 500. The answer also revealed other career opportunities Stewart turned down.

“There’s days I wonder if I should have taken Penske’s offer to run the 500, there’s days I wonder if I should have back in ’96 at the end of the year taken Rick Hendrick’s offer to drive the 25 car (in the Sprint Cup),” Stewart said. “There’s days that I wonder if I should have taken Barry Green’s offer to drive for Team Kool Green in the CART series. I think it’s all worked out pretty good since then, so I think we’ve made the right decisions. We’ve always trusted our gut instinct, and I don’t think it’s led us wrong yet.”

In 26 starts in the Indy Racing League, Stewart grabbed three wins, seven podiums and eight poles.

Stewart made the jump to NASCAR full-time in 1999, where he has 48 wins in the Sprint Cup series.

Stewart is the only driver to win a championship in the NASCAR’s top series and in a top open-wheel series.

“So far, but records are made to be broken, and somebody else can come along and do the same thing,” Stewart said. “It’s always a possibility. It’s neat to be the first guy to do it, but I wouldn’t venture to say I’ll be the last.”

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

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The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994