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If Tony Stewart enters Indy 500, he’d have warm-up race at Pocono first

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Tony Stewart on Wednesday may have taken one step closer to making a return to racing in the Indianapolis 500.

Or not.

Stewart was at Texas Motor Speedway as part of his annual “Smoke Show” fantasy driving camp.

As usual, Stewart took time out to speak with local Dallas/Fort Worth media. One of the questions posed to him was whether he would still one day return to race in the Indy 500.

Stewart said he likely would run an IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway the year before he’d even attempt the Indy 500, so that he could get up to speed in the open-wheel cars on a high-speed oval.

“Pocono is what we talked about doing if we’re going to do this,” Stewart said. “We are going to at least run the Pocono race. That way when May came around, I’d at least be up to speed not trying to learn a whole race car again and a whole new system all over.

“I don’t want to do like Danica Patrick. I don’t want to be a side show with the 500. I mean I would want to do it because I want to feel like I legitimately have a shot when I show up on the first day. I want to feel like I have a shot to win the race.

“Those guys are so competitive in that series right now. You’re not just going to show up like you could 20 years ago, jump in a car and go out there and be up to speed with those guys. I mean they’re on top of their game so if it happens, I mean we would definitely run at least run one oval race before the 500.

“Pocono is what we had kind of figured was the best scenario because that’s kind of the same package that you run at (IMS) so if we were going to do it, you’d probably see us run Pocono the year before.“

Do the math and that means Stewart MAY potentially race next year at Pocono and then MAY race at Indy in 2020 – at the very earliest.

Again, there’s nothing definite or confirmed. Don’t go buying your tickets just yet.

But IF Stewart were to run at Indy in 2020, he’d be 49 years old and it would be 19 years since his last appearance in the 500.

Stewart isn’t short of potential suitors that would be interested in fielding a car for him in the Indy 500.

“I actually talked to somebody from Rahal Letterman (Lanigan Racing) yesterday so I don’t know,” he said. “We’re talking about it and it’s not necessarily who we’d be doing it with. I mean we’ve talked to Andretti; we’ve talked to obviously Penske. I still got an open offer with him which is pretty cool and I think Chip (Ganassi) would want me to come back and do it again with him if we had the opportunity.”

Stewart has made five career appearances in the Indy 500, the last time being 2001. His record in his first three attempts in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing: 24th in 1996 (started on the pole), 5th in 1997 (started on the middle of the first row) and 33rd in 1998.

In both 1999 and 2001, Stewart took part in the “double,” racing both at Indianapolis in the afternoon and flying to Charlotte to race in the NASCAR Cup event the same evening.

In 1999, he finished 9th at Indy and was 4th at Charlotte, while in 2001 he finished 6th at Indy in 2001 and was 3rd at Charlotte. He is the only driver to ever complete both ends of “the double.”

Tony Stewart during  his last appearance in the Indianapolis 500 in 2001. Photo: Robert Laberge/AllSport

Stewart has made 18 starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in NASCAR’s Brickyard 400, with wins in 2005 and 2007, seven top-5 and 11 top-10 finishes.

As for racing at Pocono, Stewart – who retired from NASCAR Cup racing after the 2016 season – made 36 career NASCAR Cup starts at the 2.5-mile “tricky triangle,” with two wins, 13 top-5 and 24 top-10 finishes.

However, Stewart has never raced an IndyCar at Pocono in his career.

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OLDEST DRIVERS IN INDY 500 HISTORY

In case you’re wondering, Stewart would not be the oldest driver to ever compete in the Indy 500. His hero, four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt, made his last appearance at Indy in 1992 at the age of 57.

Gordon Johncock (1992) and Mario Andretti (1994) both were 54 in their last go-round at Indy. Another four-time Indy 500 winner, Al Unser, was one day short of his 54th birthday when he competed in the 1993 500.

Lynn St. James was also 53 when she raced in the 2000 500. Johnny Parsons was 52 in 1996, Gary Bettenhausen was 51 in 1993, while Lloyd Ruby (1977), Johnny Rutherford (1987) and Buddy Lazier (2017) were 49 in their final Indy 500s.

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IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.