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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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Rahal determined to regain winning touch in 2019 IndyCar season

Photo by Shawn Gritzmacher, INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Graham Rahal entered the room with a smile on his face and a chip on his shoulder.

It was IndyCar “Media Day” and Rahal wasn’t happy with the way last season went at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He was less happy with the fact some aren’t considering him a serious threat in 2019. He playfully chided with one media outlet for failing to mention his team as one to watch in 2019.

“We use that as motivation to show everybody how we are viewed,” Rahal said. “We are here to win.”

Rahal just turned 30 in January but is entering his 13thseason in big-time Indy car racing. He entered the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he was just 17. He missed his high school prom because he was racing at Houston.

“That was the luckiest day of my life,” Rahal said. “I didn’t have to go to the prom. It doesn’t get any better than that.

“Plus, I got my second career podium that weekend.”

Rahal drove to victory in his very first race in the combined IndyCar Series in the 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He was hailed as the “Poster Boy of Unification” and a future star. What followed was a seven-year drought before he captured his second-career win in a thrilling race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

He won two races in 2015, one in 2016 and two in 2017. He was expected to contend for victories and possibly the championship last year but struggled through a disappointing season and finished eighth in the standings.

“I’m looking forward for chance this year,” Rahal said. “Last year was a tough one for me and for the team. I’m looking forward to what my new engineer, Allen McDonald, has done so far. He is an accomplished engineer and brings a different mindset to our program this year from what we had last year. He and (fellow engineer) Eddie Jones are very close friends and that will help us from the standpoint they are on the same page.

“We needed a bit of life brought back to the team.”

Rahal believes his challenges are to get everything in order before the season starts. The team has defined the areas where it was lacking in 2019. The team needed to improve in research and development after starting behind last season.

“I’m excited for what I see, and I know in the end it will all pay off,” Rahal said. “It’s just a matter of when.

“There is a lot to be excited about for us. We are in a great position as a team. We have great sponsorship and that will allow us to push forward and do the things we need to do.”

Rahal believes at 30, he has a long time ahead of him to win races and championships and maybe even the Indianapolis 500. In order to reach those goals, however, Rahal’s team needs to regain the competitive level he displayed prior to last year.

“We’ve been fortunate to win six times,” Rahal said. “A lot of people come into this sport and never win. I fully recognize there is no reason we can’t win a lot. I don’t care what anybody writes, what anybody thinks – I really feel that when it comes to race day, we perform better than 99 percent of the other people out there.

“As a team and for myself, we have to qualify better. If we can qualify better, we’ll be a thorn in everybody’s side. We know the rear of our cars just aren’t good enough. When we need to find that extra tenth or two, it’s just not there but absolutely, we want to win.

“I don’t come here year after year to just drive around. Our sponsors don’t invest in us year after year to not see us win. We feel that. But our cars aren’t good enough and we know that.”

Rahal believes the team has identified the problems with the setup of its car. It has a deep engineering staff but hasn’t had a chance to develop the damper program and other important areas that provide a competition setup.

Takuma Sato, the winner of the 101stIndianapolis 500 when he was with Andretti Autosport, scored the team’s only victory in 2018 with a win in the Portland Grand Prix. The two are back this year and have built a respect for each other.

“He’s a good guy,” Rahal said of Sato. “Other than Helio Castroneves, Takuma is probably the happiest man on the planet. He’s a great guy and fits in well with our organization. We pride ourselves on being a family and he fits in extremely well to that.

“We need to do a better job for him as a team. He won a race last year, but we can both do better to win with both cars.

“The Andretti cars are the best right now and the Penske cars will be good. We have a lot of space to close up on those two teams but hopefully, we can do it.”