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Published: Sunday, 7/29/2007

Stewart running hot at Indy

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Tony Stewart takes the 20 car through the first turn at the Brickyard yesterday during practice for the Allstate 400. Tony Stewart takes the 20 car through the first turn at the Brickyard yesterday during practice for the Allstate 400.
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INDIANAPOLIS The place is Indy, the temperament irascible as ever, and the person is Tony Stewart. So this all makes perfect sense.

The Indiana native and painfully blunt two-time champion of the Nextel Cup Series wants to be at the peak of performance when he comes this close to home, and Stewart demonstrated that if the car is ready to keep up its share of the deal, then he has the verbal barbs sharpened and ready for delivery.

Before qualifying 14th for today s Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, a race he won in 2005, Stewart was firing on all cylinders while sparring with the media. It was no holds barred, as usual.

Stewart, who grew up virtually in the shadow of the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway and still lives in nearby Columbus, was consumed by emotion after winning here two years ago, so when asked what makes this place special, he hit the throttle and filleted a television reporter for overlooking the obvious.

You re kidding, right? You don t know the answer to that already? Do you want me to find somebody to tell you that real quick so we can go on with the stuff that people don t know the answer to yet? Stewart inquired, his words dripping sarcasm.

If they don t know that by now, they won t figure that out. That s been asked for nine straight years. And it hasn t changed. So if your viewers have watched for the last eight years, they ll know exactly what it means.

That is vintage Tony Stewart, the guy who has been taken out behind NASCAR s woodshed for disciplinary measures more than anyone else, but also the guy who has a mantel full of prestigious championships, and the guy who has led more than 9,000 laps in Cup races.

Stewart wanted to talk about today s race, about his recent win at Chicagoland, and his dozen top 10 finishes this season that have placed him sixth in the points, well positioned to make the prestigious Chase for the Nextel Cup over the final 10 events. Then he was asked what had more impact on his behavior, being in NASCAR s doghouse or drawing the ire of team owner Joe Gibbs.

Having to deal with guys like you that ask stupid questions like that, that s worse than either one of those two things, Stewart said.

Stewart is pushing hard, hungry to win again in a race he considers the biggest on the Cup schedule, and anxious to get to the Chase, since he finished one position out of that lucrative field a year ago, despite winning five races. He ranks the Brickyard above even the Daytona 500.

I don t know that I m qualified to speak on whether it s bigger in the sport or not, but for me it s always been bigger, just because I know the history of the Indianapolis 500 a lot better than I know the history of the Daytona 500, Stewart said.

They re both goals each year. It s not that you want to win Indy and you don t want to win Daytona. You want to win both of those races, because they re both marquee events.

Stewart won five races in a seven-race span to take the 2005 Nextel Cup crown, and one of those was here at Indy. There is additional attachment to the place due to his open wheel racing background. Stewart started on the pole here as a rookie in the 1996 Indy 500, and went on to win the 1997 Indy Racing League championship.

There s a history here, and I am proud to be a little part of that, Stewart said.

It s my home race, obviously. Growing up in Indiana and every year watching the Indy 500 and the whole month of May leading up to it, a race at the Brickyard is more than just a regular points race. It s always been a big race to all of the Cup drivers, but then when you grow up in Indiana, it just makes it that much more important.

Despite his tart exchange with the media, Stewart said he is relaxed and glad to be out from under the lid of that pressure cooker where he lived year after year until he got that 2005 win here at the Brickyard.

It s a lot more enjoyable, especially since all the years before we won, that was the most frustrating part of going to Indy. It was increasingly more frustrating each year that went by before we won, Stewart said.

Since 2005, we ve only been back once. But going back you don t have that big weight on your shoulders and that question of, What is it going to feel like? You know what it s going to feel like if you win it. You know how much you appreciated it and in all reality it makes it easier to focus on what you re trying to do instead of having to deal with the circus that s going on around it.

Contact Matt Markey at:mmarkey@theblade.comor 419-724-6510.



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