Chasing the checkers
NASCAR's Stewart pulling double duty again
CONCORD, N.C. (CNNSI.com) -- Tony Stewart turned in a grueling double shift Sunday night in a long day of racing in Indianapolis and North Carolina.
And he's certainly getting closer to what would be an unprecedented pair of checkered flags.
Stewart held up better physically than in 1999 when he almost passed out at Lowe's Motor Speedway, once again nailing down a pair of top-10 finishes for his 12 hours of work Sunday.
Stewart was sixth at Indy and third in the stock-car race, closing strong to finish within a second of second-place Kevin Harvick.
And he broke his own record for racing miles in a day by finishing all 1,100 miles in both races. Two years ago, Stewart went 1,090 miles while finishing ninth at Indy and fourth at Lowe's.
Less than five minutes after finishing at Indy this time, Stewart was whisked to a helicopter behind the infield care center. The next stop on his racing odyssey was an airplane bound for North Carolina, where he landed 50 minutes before the start of the Coca-Cola 600.
He arrived at Lowe's at 5:07 p.m. -- 18 minutes ahead of schedule. He even made it in time for driver introductions, where he was booed.
Stewart looked fresh as he waved to the fans when he exited the helicopter wearing his Home Depot racing uniform, passing on a golf cart ride as he walked to the podium at the start-finish line.
"I feel great. Even as much as I fought they got the needle in me," Stewart said of efforts by his doctor and trainer to keep fluids in him.
However, Stewart made an early mistake in his second race of the day, spinning out in the second lap as he tried to weave his way through the field to bring out the race's first caution flag.
He radioed to crew chief Greg Zipadelli that was was too impatient with his early move.
Stewart had qualified 12th, but was forced to start from the rear of the 43-car field when he missed the mandatory driver's meeting.
Stewart's car suffered some damage to the right front when he hit the rear of Kurt Busch's Ford and he pitted four times during the race's first 14 laps -- all under caution.
It didn't take Stewart long to rebound, moving up to 12th by the midway point in the race and sixth after 252 laps.
Stewart's exceedingly tight schedule got even more crammed when rain halted the Indy 500 for 17 minutes -- although that delay gave him time for a quick massage to get rid of cramps in his right foot.
"I couldn't get off the throttle a couple of times," Stewart said. "I thought the throttle was sticking, but it was my leg."
Moments after the race, he took a seat on a cart. As yellow-shirted security men blew their whistles to clear a path, the cart hurried to a grassy area where the helicopter waited, propellers already whirling.
He walked briskly across the tarmac and climbed in. The helicopter left at 2:52 p.m., four minutes after the race ended and seven minutes behind schedule.
The first leg of this journey could have been better.
Stewart took the lead on lap 139 but lost it nine laps later on a pit stop right after Donnie Beechler's smoking radiator brought out a yellow flag.
Stewart re-entered the track in fifth place and never got closer.
"You know the driver made too many mistakes," Stewart said of his Indy run. "I stalled in the pits. That got us in bad track position. I was gambling I wouldn't make mistakes and I made three. You just can't make that many."
Five laps after his unfortunately timed pit stop, the rain hit and the red flag came out. With a break in the race, Stewart jumped out of his car and jogged to the first aid stall for the quick massage.
With time ticking away and the race still on hold, Stewart's backup driver, Richie Hearn, rushed out to the car. Stewart got on a cart that started heading toward the helicopter.
But that wasn't the plan. The rain had stopped, the track had dried, and with the race about to resume, Stewart jumped off the cart and jogged back to pit road, knowing he still had time to finish and make his flight to Charlotte.
Stewart's sixth-place finish was three spots better than in 1999. At the end of that day, Stewart had to be helped out of his car in Concord and taken on a stretcher to the infield care center.
"It was definitely worth doing once," Stewart said then.
He had reason to believe his body will hold up better this time.
He placed his diet in the hands of a nutritionist, Al Shuford, who works for Stewart's NASCAR team. Both driver and trainer felt like Stewart entered one of the most grueling tests in sports in much better physical shape than two years ago.
"He got a great night's sleep," Shuford said. "And before that, he prepared well."
Last time, Stewart did very little to hydrate himself in the days and weeks leading up to the race; on race day, all he ate were a few small bagels. This time, he had waffles, fresh fruit, toast and jelly for breakfast. A turkey sandwich was one of his options for lunch on the plane to Charlotte.
Shuford let Stewart sleep a little later than normal -- a 7:15 a.m. wakeup call instead of 6:30.
Although the rain hampered the schedule, the cool weather had its benefits, too. With the temperature reaching only 60, Shuford said dehydration wasn't nearly as big an issue.
In addition to Stewart, John Andretti (1994) and Robby Gordon (2000) have also run in both races on the same day.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.