The iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway is sacred ground for Indiana native Tony Stewart.
So much so, in fact, when NASCAR first entertained thoughts of racing at the 2.5-mile track in the mid-1990s, Stewart was adamantly against it.
“I’m a purist. I’m old school. It’s always been sacred ground to me,” Stewart said. “I was one of them that absolutely thought it was a crime initially.”
Times change. Attitudes change.
They did for Stewart, who began to change his mind after watching a replay of the first NASCAR race at the Brickyard in 1994.
Now, Stewart can’t see NASCAR without a trip to Indy.
“I don’t care how many times you win there, it’s never enough. It’s nice to have won two races already there,” he said. “That gives you confidence of knowing what you have to do to win. It’s just a matter of doing it.”
While Stewart, a former IndyCar Series champion, never visited Victory Lane in the historic Indianapolis 500, his two Sprint Cup Series wins at Indy have marked important milestones in his racing career.
Another win in Sunday’s Crown Royal 400 would go a long way toward achieving another.
Stewart entered the 2014 season surrounded by uncertainty and change.
He missed the last 15 races of the 2013 after suffering two broken bones in his right leg from an accident in a sprint car race during the summer. Stewart also added a new crew chief, Chad Johnston, for his No. 14 Chevrolet team in the offseason.
Stewart would not consider either an excuse for performance, but the fact remains he is still winless this season.
With NASCAR’s changes to the Chase this year putting a premium on wins to make the 16-driver field, a win would be some added insurance Stewart and his team were headed in the right direction.
“As much as the emphasis is on wins and not points racing, we’re kind of in a position where we’re close to being in that part of it as well where we could get in on points, but a win would solve that,” Stewart said.
“It’s kind of a double‑edged sword right now. Do you get yourself in a position where you go for the win and risk if you run second losing that opportunity? Or do you sit there and say, ‘Well, I need to have a solid point day because we have the opportunity on the other side of the coin.’ ?
“We still have two shots at getting in the Chase, obviously, one being a win and the other being getting in there because of the points position.”
Some times have returned to normal for Stewart this season.
In May, he tested in a sprint car for the first time since his accident. Last Friday, in his first sprint car race since his accident, he won the feature at Tri-City Motor Speedway in Auburn, Mich.. Two nights later, he finished third in another race.
There is very little correlation to what takes place in a sprint car race on dirt and the challenges Stewart faces in NASCAR. But success never hurts.
“We’re all finicky when it comes to running bad, and you sit there and start questioning if you’re doing something wrong or if you’re not adapting to the car with the new rules package and everything,” he said.
“You start questioning: Is it something that you’re doing or not doing as a driver? To be able to go out and win on Friday night and ran third on Saturday night, and to have two good runs like that in a car that I haven't been in for almost a full year now, that was a huge confidence boost.”
While Stewart may not appear the likeliest candidate to win at the Brickyard this weekend, the timing and the location of the victory for him couldn’t be better.
“If you can’t win the Daytona 500, this is the perfect second to get your first win for the year,” Stewart said. “I hope it would be the perfect place.”