Dream of Indy pulls Stewart into grueling double shift
CONCORD, N.C. (CNNSI.com) -- Two years ago, Tony Stewart vowed never to try to run both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 again.
But here he is again, trying to pull off the grueling feat by competing in two of auto racing's biggest events May 27.
"The reason we decided to do it was the same intention I had a couple of years ago -- I want to win Indy," Stewart said Friday.
"When you grow up 45 minutes from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and all your life, every May, when you get home from school the first thing you do is turn on the TV and you didn't turn it off until the track closed, it's not hard to understand how important Indianapolis is to someone like myself."
Stewart started his career in open-wheel racing and made a run at the Indy 500 before. He started from the pole as an Indy rookie in 1996 and was the Indy Racing League series champion in 1997.
But he started concentrating on stock cars that year, and by 1999 he was running a full NASCAR Winston Cup schedule.
That also was the year he tried to run both races.
He finished ninth at Indy, then took a helicopter from the track to the airport and then a private jet for a 50-minute flight to North Carolina.
Fighting sickness and exhaustion, Stewart finished fourth in the Coca-Cola 600 that night, completing 596 of a possible 600 laps in the two races.
Now he'll try to do it again, driving for Indy car owner Chip Ganassi with the blessing of Cup car-owner Joe Gibbs.
"At first, when he closed the door and told me he wanted to do it again, I thought he was kidding," said J.D. Gibbs, Joe Gibbs' son and president of the race team.
"But we thought about it and we gave him some requirements and so far he's met them all, so we're behind him."
But Gibbs Racing has Stewart on a tight schedule, one that could require Stewart to get out of the car in Indy even if he's leading the race.
Currently eighth in the Winston Cup points standings, Stewart has to be in his car at the start of the Coca-Cola 600 or forfeit earning any points in the race. Taking a zero in Charlotte could ultimately cost Stewart a chance at the championship.
And with a such a small margin of error on time, any weather delays or long stoppages on the track could cost Stewart valuable minutes.
A year ago, Robby Gordon tried to run both races, but rain delayed the start in Indy and Gordon didn't make it to Charlotte in time to start the 600.
So the race in Indy almost has to start on time for Stewart to get in the car. If weather again delays it, there's a chance he could skip the race altogether.
There's also a designated time in which Stewart has to get out of the car to leave for Charlotte, but he wouldn't reveal it to prevent the media from "looking at their watch" during the race.
But he said he would honor Gibbs' rules and get out of the car when the clock dictates it.
"They did not have to let me go up to Indianapolis and do this, they did it because they understand how big of a dream it is for me to win Indy," Stewart said. "But there we're conditions that had to be met and saying I have to be out of the IRL car to make sure that I start this race on time, I don't think that's unreasonable."
The travel will be reduced dramatically this year for Stewart because of less overlap in the schedules.
The only day that Stewart needs to be in both places is next Thursday, when he'll participate in Carburetion Day in Indy in the morning, then fly to Charlotte for Coca-Cola 600 qualifying that night.
And helping Stewart with the physical part of the double this year is an athletic trainer hired by Gibbs to help Stewart with his conditioning and nutrition.
Because Stewart worked so hard to fight off dehydration the first time he tried it, he ended up drinking too much water and not eating enough. That led to cramping and exhaustion and was the main reason Stewart was taken out of the Winston Cup car on a stretcher.
But Al Shuford, a former trainer with the Carolina Panthers now working for Gibbs, has been conditioning Stewart and guiding him on his diet. He has a menu already in place for the days leading up the races.
Gone from Stewart's diet is fast food, pizza, doughnuts and soda -- all of his favorites -- in favor of healthier foods and a planned menu.
That part of the preparation could be what keeps Stewart from attempting the feat again.
"I have nothing against people who eat a lot of health foods and like to stay healthy, but I like my pizza and burgers," he said. "To do this every year, I'd kill Al if I had to do this three or four years consecutively."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.