When Tony Stewart stepped away from his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford at the close of 2016, he vowed to race where he wanted to race and have a lot of fun doing it. So far he’s kept to that mandate, racing sprint cars around the country, with the occasional midget race thrown in. That type of open-wheel competition was what hooked “Smoke” on the sport; it’s what’s keeping him engaged.
The thrill of racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) though, and the prospect of racing on the Brickyard’s 14-turn, 2.439-mile road/oval track was just too much to resist. Racing fans will get to see Tony Stewart race in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series contest at IMS on July 4th this year, in a Ford Mustang from his own Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team.
The Xfinity Series race at Indy is an inaugural contest for the stock car set, so none of the drivers involved will have an advantage. Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Cup Series titleholder and a 2020 inductee to NASCAR’ s Hall of Fame will contest the 62-lap Indiana 150 race, giving the driver his 28th overall start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and his first in Xfinity Series competition. Smoke has raced in 18 Brickyard 400 Cup Series races, winning twice in 2005 and 2007, five Indianapolis 500 Mile Races and four IROC Series races.
“Everyone knows what Indy means to me, so I can’t think of a better place to race on Fourth of July weekend,” he said. Stewart grew up 45 minutes south of Indy in the city of Columbus and smaller town of Rushville, Indiana. “It’s going to be cool making history by turning left and right in a stock car at the Brickyard, and the racing will be full of action and contact. Any time you can drive any racecar at the Speedway is special, and you know I’m going for the win. The date is already circled on my calendar.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road/oval course has hosted Formula One, sports cars, MotoGP and currently hosts INDYCAR; this is the first time NASCAR cars will race at this particular venue. And while Tony Stewart has raced both open-wheel and closed-wheel cars on the oval, he’s never driven this road course in any type of race car.
Still, Smoke has eight road course wins in NASCAR’s Cup Series, including his 49th and final Cup Series victory at Sonoma Raceway in his final, full-time 2016 season. He’s second only to Jeff Gordon for the most road-course victories in the NASCAR Cup Series, his eight wins coming at Sonoma (2001, 2005, 2016) and at Watkins Glen International in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009.
Smoke’s most recent excursion on a road course came last October at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), where he chauffeured a passenger-seat-equipped SHR-prepared Ford Mustang around that daunting, 3.426-mile, 20-turn circuit, showing Haas F1 teammates Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen how to hustle a 3,200-pound racecar around the United States’ sole purpose-built F1 track.
“It was a lot of fun for me to get in one of our Ford Mustangs and do that exhibition run at COTA,” Stewart allowed. “It kind of got my juices flowing to get back in a [closed] car again, and what better place to come back than Indianapolis Motor Speedway?”
This upcoming Indiana 150 marks Stewart’s 95th career Xfinity Series start. It’ll be his first since the 2013 season opener at Daytona International Speedway, where he collected his 11th Xfinity Series victory. July 4th also marks Stewart’s first NASCAR start since the 2016 NASCAR Cup Series season finale on the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval. Details about Stewart’s car number, crew and primary backer will be announced closer to his appearance this summer.
While Tony Stewart races about 100 times each year in a sprint car, he often gets comments from fans who say they miss seeing him behind the where’re. “Well,” he advises them, “you’ve just got to go to different places now.” Although he’s earned 23 victories in a variety of sprint car races since 2017, “Seeing some of these road-course races – especially the Roval at Charlotte – piqued my interest a bit, and running the stock car at COTA, it kind of fed my hunger. All of it has led me back to the place I’ve always called home – Indy.”