The NASCAR awards ceremony was great as usual. It is very different watching your favorite driver and team all dressed up. Watching the top ten drivers talk about their season and thank the people who got them there is always a good reminder of what it takes to make it happen. Watching the festivities this year was no exception.
Then Roger Penske came to the podium for his time to talk about the season. He thanked all the other car owners which seems odd but was only fitting since it took over 20 years for Penske Racing to get to the top. Roger then turned toward Tony Stewart and said. “Thank You I know we took your spot this year, but you’re a car owner, you and Gene, you’re a race driver and you’re a track promoter. How about doing the double at Indy this year are you available.” Did I just hear what I think I heard? Since then I just can’t get it out of my head, so how about putting it in yours.
The Indy Racing League (IRL) has not been doing well lately. Since NASCAR moved to prime time in 2001, the Indy Racing League and CART have dwindled in attendance, the latter is now gone. It is talked about but not publicly that the Indianapolis 500 attendance is the same or actually less than the Brickyard 400. A far cry from the years before NASCAR came to Indianapolis. To make matters worse for the IRL the last year or so the bulk of its races were moved to a cable TV channel that few people get. Tony Stewart racing in the Indianapolis 500 immediately brings millions of committed race fans to the IRL party. This would carry over for the whole month of May. This and the ratings that go with it might bring the IRL a better TV deal enabling their races to be seen by more people. This is nothing but a big Win for the IRL.
Roger Penske and Penske Racing does not need to have another car entered into the Indianapolis 500. Three time winner Helio Castroneves and Will Power pretty much have it covered. Roger Penske is one of the most successful business men on the planet. He knows that his investment and more importantly his passion for INDY car racing is in trouble. Having a third car driven by old school 1997 IRL champion Tony Stewart will create the buzz and perhaps interest to get the IRL going again. He also knows that someone will sponsor Tony if he does the double, especially if they know he would be in one of the most competitive IRL cars in the series. This is a big Win for Roger Penske and Penske Racing.
One can’t help but think that Tony Stewart has left something at Indianapolis. Seeing how important it was for him to win the Brickyard 400 it only makes you think that he would really love to win the Indianapolis 500. This was especially evident in 2004 when Tony visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and considered trying to qualify Tony’s boyhood hero A.J. Foyt backup car. The only downside for Tony is that he would probably have to step up, do some physical training like Mark Martin and Carl Edwards in order to race 1,100 miles in one day. If he can do that plus step up his focus in both series while practicing for the 500 during the month of May, it will make him one tough driver. This would be a Win for Tony Stewart.
I already can’t wait for May next year. Come on Tony you can do it.