Work in Sports
Doubling his pleasure
Stewart completes 1,100-mile Sunday drive
By Mike Fish, CNNSI.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- Talk about the ultimate marathon man.
Imagine, if you will, traversing the hills of Boston and then hopping a jet to close out the your late afternoon and evening with the Chicago Marathon. That's a fair comparison to what Tony Stewart pulled off Sunday behind the wheel of race cars.
Starting on his Hoosier home turf, Stewart duplicated his 1999 finish with a solid sixth-place showing in the Indianapolis 500, where rookie Helio Castroneves rode off to victory. Two hours later, Stewart was behind the wheel of his No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac for what would end in a third-place finish in the Coca-Cola 500.
That's a 1,100-mile racing odyssey -- nothing but ovals and left turns.
In between, throw in a couple short helicopter trips and a Lear jet flight.
"[Sunday] was a great, great day," said Stewart, climbing out of his car. "It made all the sacrifice worth it."
Veteran Mark Martin was among the first to greet Stewart after the Coca-Cola 600, elbowing his way through a media throng armed with microphones and cameras. "Great job," Martin said.
Stewart said he got everything possible out of his stock car, and may have tasted victory but for starting aback the field and also suffering an early spin out. He was smiling and sucking down a soft drink soon after his late rush to third.
"I don't think I'll eat a lot [Sunday night], but [Monday] I'll go to McDonald's and Taco Bell," quipped Stewart, who worked with a nutritionist preparing for the dual races.
The early stories of the day centered on Stewart's arrival at the track here and whether a broken rib might keep Dale Jarrett on the sideline. Jarrett drove with pain, but not before echoing the favorable sentiment in the garage for the challenge taken on by Stewart.
Addressing the Lowe's Motor Speedway crowd of 185,000 on Sunday, Jarrett said: "Tony Stewart is going to get here today. ... I want all of you to cheer for that young man."
It wasn't too long before the crowd roared approvingly as a helicopter delivering Stewart from a local airport landed on the infield, 100 yards or so from the start line.
The ultimate Sunday afternoon driver started in the 43rd and last position, as dictated by NASCAR rules, because of missing the driver's meeting two hours before the start. Stewart's nightcap turned adventurous when he spun out on the second lap and yet managed to avoid serious damage to his car. He complained early of the car being loose while pitting twice in the first 15 laps.
"At the start of the race, I was flat squirrelly," Stewart said. "I didn't expect the track to be that slick."
Physically, Stewart held up much better than in his doubleheader feat two years ago, when he was treated for exhaustion after the Charlotte nightcap. A problem Sunday was some leg numbness during the Indy race.
A bigger worry surfaced after the Indianapolis 500 was slowed early by a series of caution flags. Would it pose a snag for a tight schedule?
"I just knew it would make us awfully close on time [to get to Charlotte], so I was just hoping the wind was at our back going down there," Stewart said.
On the Indy track, there was nothing to practice but patience.
"You can't get in too big a hurry there," he said. "You've got to take care of your car to make it to the end. I just made too many mistakes [Sunday] -- I stalled in the pits. That got us bad track position.
"The biggest mistake I made was the call to take down force off the car. It was really balanced with the down force we had in it, but when I took it off the car was real skittish in traffic."
The last time he tried the marathon, Stewart said he'd never attempt it again. And does the future hold another bid?
"I'll worry about that later," he said.