Ford would ‘never rule out’ Stewart racing at Le Mans

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Jeff Gordon’s return has been a major storyline entering the Rolex 24 this weekend.

Another recently retired NASCAR star could have joined him at Daytona International Speedway – and also could be headed to a future debut in the globe’s most prestigious sports car event.

Tony Stewart explored running both the Rolex 24 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, and he remains interested in the world-renowned race in France in the future.

Ford returned to Le Mans last year and won the LM GTE Pro class with Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller in the No. 68 Ford GT fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing.

The victory came 50 years after Ford had scored a 1-2-3 sweep at Le Mans in 1966.

Ford Performance began a new multiyear deal this season with Stewart-Haas Racing, the NASCAR team that remains co-owned by Stewart.

During a recent event at Ford’s racing facility in Concord, North Carolina, Raj Nair, executive vice president for Global Product Development and chief technical officer for Ford Motor Co., said the company was interested in Stewart running Le Mans in the future.

“I’d never rule that out,” Nair said. “I’m not sure what’s going to be happening in the meantime. I think he’s going to stay sharp. Right now we’re pretty happy with our driver lineup.”

That brought a friendly staredown from Stewart, who was sitting beside Nair.

“Not that we wouldn’t be happy if you were in it,” Nair said with a laugh. “He’s also got those eyes that burn, you can really feel it. So if he stays in shape and makes sure he can handle 24-hour races …”

“I have incentive now,” Stewart said.

Stewart has started the Rolex 24 four times, most recently in 2006. He scored a career-best third twice, in 2004 and ’05 with Howard Boss Motorsports.

Though he has left NASCAR, the three-time champion still is racing and intends to enter as many 80 races this year (many are expected to be in sprint cars on dirt tracks).