Coffee with Kyle: Confident Tony Stewart still considering Indy 500

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This August, Tony Stewart announced he was considering a return to an open wheel car for a possible bid for the 2020 Indy 500 trophy.

Before the month was over, Robert Wickens was involved in a horrendous accident at Pocono Raceway that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Wickens’ Pocono crash caused Stewart to reconsider, but as he recently told NBC analyst Kyle Petty, The Brickyard still has its siren’s call less than two years since he left NASCAR.

Stewart’s retirement was the result of a promise made nearly 40 years ago.

“I got to where I was mad on Thursdays that I was leaving to go do what I was doing and I was like, ‘this isn’t right.’ ” Stewart told Petty as the two sat down for coffee.

“My dad made me promise when I was eight years old when we started racing together, he said ‘the day that you’re not having fun doing this, promise me you’ll stop.’ And I think he meant if I was nine or ten or 11, but I never forgot that and I finally got to the point where I’m not having fun. Why am I doing this?”

The decision of whether to return to IndyCar has never been easy.

“Somebody asked me earlier this year if I would ever consider going back to Indy and I said ‘yeah.’ A year ago I said ‘absolutely not,’ Stewart said. “My last couple of years in Cup, I ran so bad that I didn’t have any confidence. I didn’t feel like I had the ability any more. Then this year, I started to get that confidence back.”

Stewart’s confidence was rebuilt on the back of several strong runs in sprint cars this year including a victory in the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions series that he owns.

Stewart questioned the value of returning to IndyCar not because he lost his nerve, but because an injury there might keep him from racing the types of cars that are a large part of why he retired from full time racing in the first place.

It was a double-edged sword. The success Stewart has had in sprint car racing in 2018 was also part of his indecision to return to IndyCar.

Wickens’ announcement that he was paralyzed from the waist down came on the heels of Stewart’s win in a USCS Sprint car race at Southern Raceway in Milton, Florida. His Florida win was part of a six-race, top five streak and was one of nine consecutive races win which he finished sixth or better.

The only reason to return to the Indy 500 is to win it. His best finish in the iconic race was fifth in 1997.

“I’ve had offers from (Bobby) Rahal and Zak Brown from the McLaren side, (from) Michael Andretti, from (Team) Penske,” Stewart revealed. “I think (Chip) Ganassi would want me in a car if I still wanted to go – he hasn’t said anything officially. But I’ve got really good offers to run Indy next year. The problem is I don’t have time in those cars.”

The promise of those rides remains. Stewart’s desire to race remains. Now, everyone needs to sit back and see what happens next.

For more, watch the video above.

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Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”