This weekend when Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, gets behind the wheel for his 17th Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it will be for his final start at his hometown track.
“I grew up and lived my whole life in Indiana,” he said. “I’m the only NASCAR driver in the Cup Series who’s from Indiana and who still lives in Indiana, and I’m proud of where I was born. “I’m proud to be back. I still live in the town I was raised in. I take a lot of pride in that. I think the state of Indiana takes a lot of pride in that, and that’s why it makes it a big weekend.”
The Columbus, Indiana native spent his childhood watching his heroes’ race at IMS with his father, creating memories to last a lifetime including one for his first of the track.
“We were in some bus that had a luggage rack in the top of it.” He said. “You had to get up at 0- dark -30 to get on the bus to ride up to Indy for race day. They threw me up in the luggage rack. Somebody gave me a pillow and everyone started throwing their jackets on top of me to keep warm.
“The ride home wasn’t nearly as cool because, after a long day at the track, everybody but my dad and I were kind of rowdy, I was probably five years old.”
The track also had held special moments in Stewart racing Career over the years. He would finally get to kiss the famed yard of bricks on the start/finish line in 2005 when he won first Brickyard 400 while racing in the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet while racing at Joe Gibbs Racing.
“It’s everything to me,” he said. “My whole life, since I was a kid, that’s what I wanted to do. Not that I had some fascination with kissing bricks as a child, but my fascination to do it (at Indianapolis) was pretty obsessive.”
Winning at IMS in 2005 took a huge chip off his shoulder as he finally was able to get a win at his home track he loves so much. He would follow it up with a second win at the Brickyard 400 in 2007.
“The one thing that was always on the top of my resume was a blank stop that said Indy 500 winner,” he said. “I think winning the brickyard that year took the sting out of not winning there in an Indy car. It didn’t replace it, but it just took the sting out of it.
“To finally win at home, and to win at a facility that all my life was the holy grail when you grow up in Indiana, to finally be able to check that off the list, to do it a couple times, now, they are definitely two of the highlights of my career.”
Stewart will bring momentum into the weekend with him. After missing the first eight races due to off-season injury, he finally has his season turning around with a win last month at Sonoma Raceway. Last weekend he finished second at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, moving him up to 28th in points and as of now in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“I’m not going to downplay it because it’s one of the most important weekends of the year for me, being at home and racing in front of friends and family for the last time there,” he said. “It’ll be an emotional weekend, for sure, but I’ve got a plan on how I’m going to approach the weekend, and I’m going to stick to that plan and go about our work.”