In response to a groundswell of interest from fans in the idea of two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Tony Stewart returning to the Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway boss Jeff Belskus has indicated he won't stand in the way.
Belskus told the told the Indianapolis Star that while there are many details that would have to be worked out, he is open to considering bringing forward the start time of next year's Indianapolis 500 to enable a NASCAR driver or drivers to compete. The issue has come up several times in recent years, but got new life when Roger Penske publicly offered Stewart a ride in one of his cars for next May's race during NASCAR's awards ceremony on Saturday night. It was assumed to be a joke at the time, but Penske insisted afterward that he had been serious.
"If he [Stewart] wants to do the double, I'd put him in it," Penske told the Associated Press. "We've talked about it before; I guess I made it official tonight."
IMS was quick to bolster the resulting hype, setting up an online petition for fans to sign urging Stewart to take Penske up on the offer. Stewart has made no comment, although he has previously said his focus on his NASCAR teams precludes him returning to Indy. Stewart last raced in the Memorial Day weekend classic in 2001 with Chip Ganassi Racing, finishing sixth, and he went on to finish third in the Coke 600 that evening.
Currently, the 500 is set to start at noon, all but precluding a driver from completing the 500 miles and make the flight to Charlotte in time for that evening's Coca-Cola 600 Sprint Cup race. Belskus told the Star
anything is negotiable, but it would have to be a two-way street.
“It's a conversation we'd be willing to have,” he said today. “We're willing to adjust – if they [Charlotte and NASCAR] are willing to adjust.”
Another Stewart-Haas racer – Danica Patrick – has also been linked several times this year with an Indy/Charlotte double, although media reports last month indicated that she had shelved plans to do so for 2013 as she concentrates on her full-time move to NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. However, Patrick said at NASCAR's Phoenix weekend that she had not yet made a decision about an Indy run.
"I'd like to do it," Patrick told USA TODAY. "I think it would be a huge thing as far as to say something that I've done, and I think it would be something that if I did it, it would be because I had a chance to win.