Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Stewart's Indy-Charlotte Double Will Not Be Easily Done

Roger Penske has an open seat at Indy
Roger Penske, look what you’ve started.

In the midst of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship acceptance speech Friday night at the Wynn Las Vegas, the longtime NASCAR and Indy Car team owner ignited a firestorm of speculation with a simple invitation.
"Where's (Tony) Stewart?" asked Penske, scanning the room from his position at the podium. "You’re a car owner, you’re a race driver and you’re a track promoter. How about doing the Double at Indy this year? Are you available?"

The offer, made on national television, was initially thought to be in jest. But later, Penske insisted he will field a car for Stewart in the 2013 edition of ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’ if the three-time Sprint Cup champion is willing to drive it.
“If he wants to do the Double, I'd put him in it," Penske said Friday. "We've talked about it before (and) I guess I made it official tonight."
The Indy-Charlotte Double is not uncharted territory. John Andretti first accomplished the feat in 1994, and Robby Gordon has turned the trick on three different occasions. Stewart himself has two Indy-Charlotte twinbills on his resume, finishing ninth and fourth in 1999, then sixth/third two years later.
Since then, conflicting schedules have prevented anyone from competing in both events. A decision on whether to attempt it again in 2013 will not be Stewart’s alone.
Stewart has a decision to make
In order for Stewart (or anyone else) to compete in both races, Indianapolis Motor Speedway must accelerate the start of the 500; allowing time to complete the race, take part in potential Victory Lane festivities and honor media obligations before hopping a private jet and flying to Charlotte to take the green flag in the Coca-Cola 600.
IMS officials have not commented officially on the possibility of a schedule change, but earlier this week, they tipped their hand by creating an online “petition” designed to convince the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion to take part in next May’s race.
ABC, which broadcasts the Indy 500, also seems amenable to the move. "ABC/ESPN would enthusiastically support the opportunity for driver(s) to participate in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600,” said ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions Julie Sobieski.
But what about Stewart himself?
The Columbus, Ind., native will be 42-years old next May, 11 years older (and a pound or two heavier) than the last time he strapped into an Indy Car. The Indy-Charlotte Double comprises 1,100 total miles of competition, sandwiched around a harried, 600-mile commute in a 13-hour time frame. It pushed Stewart to the brink in 2001, both physically and mentally, and it’ll be even tougher this time around. 

Stewart insists he abandoned his dream of winning the Indianapolis 500 years ago, filling the void with a pair of victories in the Brickyard 400 Sprint Cup Series race. Recently, Director of Competition Greg Zipadelli said Stewart Haas Racing would not support a proposed Indy-Charlotte Double by Danica Patrick next season, saying, “I lived through it twice with one of the greatest racers I've ever seen. Trying to run both of those races is just stupid. (Patrick) needs to focus on the Cup car if that's what she wants to do. If she's here to be in NASCAR, then she needs to be here, focused on NASCAR." 

The same can almost certainly be said for Stewart. Sprint Cup Series championships are not won half-heartedly, and anything less than a 100-percent commitment will almost certainly leave him short of the mark when the hardware is handed out at Homestead Miami Speedway next November. 

Could we see this again in 2013?
Open Wheel technology has changed dramatically since 2001. The Indy Cars of Stewart’s memory bear little resemblance to today’s machines, and it is unreasonable to expect any driver – even a wheelman of Stewart’s ability – to compete for the win at Indianapolis without taking part in the track’s nearly month-long regimen of testing. Stewart is capable of making that commitment, but only at the expense of his primary responsibility; Stewart Haas Racing.  

There are also significant monetary and contractual barriers to be overcome before Stewart straps into an Indy Car. He currently enjoys a lucrative sponsor relationship with Mobil1, which serves as a major backer of his No. 14 Sprint Cup Series Chevrolet. Penske, meanwhile, has a longstanding affiliation with rival Shell Pennzoil. Neither organization will be anxious to share the spotlight with their rival, and compromise will be difficult to broker. 

Roger Penske is an astute businessman who knows a promotional blockbuster when he suggests one. The men who run Indy Car these days exhibit an uncanny ability to step on their own appendages, and have done little to build interest in the series. Television ratings are non-existent, and after botching the recent firing of CEO Randy Bernard and suffering through a ham-handed attempt by former owner Tony George to purchase the series, Indy Car will take their good news, any way they can get it. 

Tony Stewart’s return to Indy Car – if only for one race -- would inject excitement into an event and a series that are woefully in need of both. 

What’s best for IMS and Indy Car, however, is not necessarily what’s best for Stewart.

Photos: Getty Images, Autoweek.com, ArtemisImages.com


  1. It can't be done. The time constraints are too great. It's why no one else even tries it anymore.

  2. Anonymous12:01 PM

    It would be great for both series, though at 42 I'm not sure Tony could do it without falling out of the seat towards the end of the 600. Then again Tony will never get this good a chance to win the 500, Penske's no slouch at Indy. I can't wait to hear what Tony has say, he must be seriously considering it as he's never been this quiet!

  3. I'll never say never with Tony until he publicly declines this offer.

    IMS HAS to move their stuff if they get a name like Tony to do the double. I also don't believe this hurts his NASCAR prospects for 2013 either. The Chase has enough built in mulligans that if Tony were to stink it up in Charlotte, he'd still be in Chase contention. Probably even if he missed the green flag too. The wild card helps that case. As long as this is a well-prepared effort by Tony and Roger, (Would you expect anything less from the two?) this is a serious possibility.

    Dancia not doing it makes sense. Tony doing it does if he still wants it. If he really is past this dream though, that is even more admirable.

  4. Anonymous9:33 PM

    if...and a big if smoke did this...would he not go with long time pal chip ganassi. the ganassi cars do well at indy as i recall.