Wednesday, Feb 01

Tony Stewart Another Day at the Office

The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway has long been one of the “crown jewel” races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, along with the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and since 1994 when stock cars debuted at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Brickyard 400. Each of these events garners extra attention given their historical implications and unique attributes, further distinguishing them from their counterparts on the 36-race Sprint Cup calendar.

The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s richest race. The Southern 500 is the series’ oldest superspeedway race. The Brickyard 400 marks NASCAR’s ascendency, because prior to 1994, only Indy cars competed at the venerable oval. And by virtue of being NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 tests man and machine like no other race on the marathon-like Sprint Cup schedule.

A full 100 miles longer than any other Sprint Cup race, the Coca-Cola 600 starts in the full light of day and ends in the dark of night. Much is made of the endurance a driver must have to negotiate the typically temperamental 1.5-mile oval in a four-wheeled, 850-horspower, sauna-hot laboratory in a race that surpasses four hours.

For Tony Stewart, it’s a lot of hyperbole.

Stewart built his career by racing anything, anywhere, anytime he could. Often times, it translated into running multiple events in different series in the same day. Stewart had to operate at a manic pace, but the effort obviously paid off, first evidenced by him winning the USAC “Triple Crown” in 1995 when he earned the USAC Sprint, Midget and Silver Crown titles in a single year. Those seeds planted future

success, for in 15 years as a Sprint Cup driver, Stewart has amassed 47 point-paying victories and three championships (2002, 2005 and 2011).

Stewart continues to return to his racing roots, supplementing his NASCAR program with various Sprint Car races, including the occasional World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series event. On any given night, Stewart can be found competing at select dirt races after working his regular job – driving the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Switching racing genres keeps Stewart sharp, and while barnstorming dirt track across America doesn’t always move the media’s needle, one high-profile bit of extra-curricular racing certainly did.

Twice on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Stewart has competed in two of the world’s biggest races – the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. The grueling, one-day trek, known as “Double Duty,” saw Stewart compete in an Indy car at Indianapolis before flying to Concord, N.C., to compete in the Coca-Cola 600 that evening at Charlotte. He became the first driver to complete both races in the same day, finishing ninth and fourth, respectively. Stewart drove a total of 1,090 miles. Stewart repeated this feat in 2001, when he drove an Indy car for Chip Ganassi at Indy. He bettered his mark from 1999 by finishing on the lead lap in sixth before jetting off to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600. He improved that finish, as well, coming home third in the 600-miler. Stewart completed all 1,100 miles – breaking his record for most racing miles driven in one day.

Those races proved that Stewart is most comfortable behind the wheel of a racecar, regardless of its sparse and claustrophobic confines. With NASCAR’s longest race up next for Stewart, it’s just another day at the office.

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