Monday, December 3, 2012

Thoughts On Tony Stewart & The Indy 500

We're probably supposed to be cynical about Roger Penske's offer to Tony Stewart to run the Indianapolis 500 next year; certainly, it doesn't sound probable. Yet it has enough of an intrigue factor to have been a leading headline on the main page of ESPN over the weekend. So why does this possibility continue to excite and draw attention?

I believe one of the biggest items is simply this: among North American drivers, Tony Stewart seems to be a throwback to a time where drivers would compete in midgets, open wheel, stock cars, and whatever else happened to be available with equal aplomb. In a time where it seems like many drivers do not have the interest or at least opportunity to drive outside 1-2 disciplines, Stewart retains the perception that he's an "old school racer" in a modern world. I'll let you judge the veracity of that statement, but I think that's the angle many take when they think of Stewart.

Of course, Stewart has also largely remained in the good graces of IndyCar fans, even as he made the full-time transition to NASCAR following a successful USAC and Indy Racing League career. A USAC and IRL champ long before he became one in NASCAR, he is still remembered as an excellent racer, especially at the Indianapolis 500, where he was seemingly always in the conversation for a victory.

We've always had teases from well-regarded drivers in others series coming over to race IndyCar. In some cases, such as that of Rubens Barrichello, it materializes. Others, like Jimmie Johnson, will remain mere lip service or joking asides on social media. Yet the thought of Stewart, paired with Penske, not only has the attraction of Stewart's racing legacy behind it, but an avenue to see one of the favorites--an Indiana boy, USAC and open wheel champion-come home once more, even if only for a single 500-miler.

Now, there are a hundred reasons why the Penske/Stewart run at Indy probably wouldn't happen. But I firmly believe that Tony Stewart would not only be welcomed back with open arms, but is enough of a pure racer to maximize what he could get out of a quality ride like Penske's. May is a long way off, but in a single statement, Roger Penske gave us even more to consider-even if it remains only a fun, improbable, tantalizingly ideal possibility.

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