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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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Hunter McElrea wins Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 Scholarship

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Hunter McElrea bested 18 competitors to win the third annual Road to Indy USF2000 $200,000 Scholarship Shootout on Sunday at Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Ariz.

The two-day contest featured on-track competition in Formula Mazda cars as well as interview sessions and assessment from a panel of judges.

“I can’t believe it,” McElrea said at IndyCar.com. “This is definitely the most exciting opportunity that I have had in my racing career. I cannot thank Mazda and everyone enough for making this possible for me. The fact that I am going to be on the grid next year thanks to them is a dream come true.

“They have given me the opportunity to prove myself in such a high level that I never even thought I would be able to reach. I have to thank Andersen Promotions, Cooper tires, all of the judges, everyone from Mazda, the Bondurant Racing School and the other competitors, who literally pushed me to the limit.

“I am just so happy. It is still sinking in, but I just can’t wait to get next year started, and I’ll be representing Mazda in that nice Soul Red USF2000 car.”

MORE: Michael Carter wins Mazda Road to 24 shootout

The 19-year-old McElrea was born in California, but reared in Australia.

As a result of winning the award, McElrea will compete in the 2019 season of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder.

McElrea won the Australian Formula Ford Championship this year on the strength of 13 victories in 21 races.

Early competition resulted in a final field of six drivers that included Jake Craig, Michael Eastwell, Braden Eves, Flinn Lazier and Ross Martin. They competed in a qualification session and 30-minute simulated race. McElrea won that race.

“Today was an incredible day,” said Tom Long, Mazda Motorsports factory driver and one of the judges. “There was so much talent here for the shootout. Hunter McElrea just rose to the top when it was time to shine, but our decision was very, very difficult.

“In the end, given all of the circumstances, we were able to make a pretty good decision and we are really, really proud of not only Hunter but our whole team here with Mazda to be able to grant this $200,000 scholarship for his opportunity in USF2000 next year.”