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.
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