Roger Penske made a bold statement on Friday, asking where Tony Stewart was and saying he would field a car for him if he wanted to do the Indianapolis 500/Coca-Cola 600 double next May.
After some laughter by everyone in attendance, he reiterated that he wasn’t joking and would love to have Stewart run one of his Chevrolet powered IndyCar’s in Indy.
Now, Stewart has said the last couple of years that his window has closed to race in the Indianapolis 500 as he doesn’t think it’s possible to come in and race without any preparation of any other races. Also, the IZOD IndyCar Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series would have to work together to make this work.
It seems like a dream scenario for everyone involved and makes perfect sense, but will it actually happen?
If Stewart does decide to get back in the shape needed to race an IndyCar machine and both series work together, he certainly could do it. If there’s any driver or any race where someone could jump in and be competitive it’s Stewart and it’s at Indianapolis. This would be Stewart’s best opportunity at winning the biggest race in the world and it’s definitely something you just don’t pass up.
If there’s anyone out there in the world that cares about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as much as me it is Stewart. I have a strong passion for that track and that race, as does Stewart.
He gives 100 percent effort at every race, but when he races at Indy it just seems like his level goes up to about 200 percent. He’s openly said he would trade all his Brickyard wins and Cup titles for just one Indianapolis 500 victory. But like I stated earlier, that talk has diminished over the last few years and he doesn’t think he could do it without preparation and without giving up on his own NASCAR team.
Penske is going to give Stewart the best opportunity though. He’s won a record 15 Indy 500′s and always is a factor every year. Stewart ran very well in his five career starts, but was cursed in nearly all of them. He started from the pole in his rookie season in 1996 and finished a career-best fifth in 1997.
All of this is creating a big buzz but what no one is talking about is what this would do for the future of the Izod IndyCar Series, the Indianapolis 500, and NASCAR. It’s no secret attendance and ratings are going down and no where near where they used to be. This could be the stunt that kick starts that back up and gives the boost both series needs.
If Stewart is running a Penske Chevy at Indy next May, expect a huge boost in attendance daily for practice and a huge crowd on both qualification days. That will crescendo to a huge Carb Day crowd and quite possibly the biggest crowd IMS would ever have had in its history on race day. Add to that mix possibly the highest ratings ever with millions around the world tuning in to see what Stewart does, and the race and the series is back.
Now, many may ask why is this good for NASCAR?
The reason is branding. That’s their driver getting the exposure and many will tune into the Coca-Cola 600 after to see how Stewart does in that race. Racing 1,100 miles in one day is going to grab people’s attention and they will tune in.
Therefore you get capacity crowd at Charlotte Motor Speedway and a big boost in ratings. Stewart’s success can lead other NASCAR drivers to try the double and that could be the best things for both series.
Expect drivers like Danica Patrick, Sam Hornish Jr., Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and possibly Jeff Gordon to try this. They all have USAC open wheel background and would obviously welcome that opportunity.
Then, I’d expect other big time NASCAR stars to want to try it and now you have big fields with making qualifying fantastic. Obviously, this would bring sponsorship and funding as what sponsor wouldn’t want to hop on a car and now both are making money.
Teams can piggy back on that and create funding for a full season out of these sponsors and now you have attendance, ratings, and big time revenue coming in for both series. It’s hard to imagine one guy running a race would make both series’ back in the spotlight again, but it will happen eventually.
Let’s hope Stewart tries this out.
Photo courtesy of tonystewart.com
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