Roger Penske, as car owner of champion Brad Keslowski’s Dodge, took advantage of his chance to speak at the NASCAR awards banquet to make headlines about next year’s Indy 500.
Penske made an offer from the podium to Tony Stewart, offering him a ride in a Penske entry for the Memorial Day classic – to do the ‘double’, the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 the same day. On the face of it, it was a reasonable offer. Penske’s team is a dominant force in IndyCar racing with 15 wins at the Brickyard. Penske will be using Chevrolet power in his Indy cars next year, compatible with Stewart’s NASCAR affiliation. The 500 attracts more entries than the other races in the series so it would be standard operating procedure for Penske to prepare an additional entry for the race. In 1997 Stewart won the IRL title and finished 5th at Indianapolis. He has already run the double twice, in 1999 and 2001. And, of course, Stewart has won the NASCAR championship three times.
There was one small technical problem which stood in the way. The start of the NASCAR 600-miler in Charlotte will be about three hours after the checker falls at Indianapolis – too short to make it possible for any driver to get from Indianapolis to Charlotte in time to get in the car for the second start. However, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, going along with the fantasy, said that it was willing to consider moving the start of the 500 earlier to accommodate Stewart.
All this heady speculation about Stewart and the double came to screeching halt when Stewart spoke up ten days later and said thanks but no thanks. He pointed out that, given the strong competition in the Indycar series, it would be hard to imagine that he could be competitive if he just strolled in there in the month of May and expected to be on the same page as the others. Further, as a team owner in NASCAR and the World of Outlaws, not to mention his ownership of the Eldora dirt track, he had too many other responsibilities to ever consider running in the Indy 500 again.
So, kudos for Penske for using the NASCAR banquet to create some IndyCar headlines in the off season; shame on us if we ever took this offer as a serious possibility.
Photo: Gerry Marentette