By KEVIN KELLY
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 8, 2001
He vowed never to attempt the feat again.
But Tony Stewart must want the Indianapolis 500 so badly that nostalgia overruns memories of how attempting to race 1,100 miles exhausted him to the extreme in 1999.
"When you grow up 45 minutes south of here, the whole month of May, this is it," the Rushville, Ind., native said Monday during a news conference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"There's nothing else that matters, especially when you're a young race car driver. ... I've had a great career to this point, but there's a space at the top of that (resume) that only one thing can be added to and that's the Indianapolis 500 victory."
A rising Winston Cup star and former IRL champion, Stewart will make his second attempt to complete the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on May 27.
He and Jimmy Vasser will drive cars owned by Chip Ganassi, replacing rookies Nicolas Minassian and Bruno Junqueira, who drive the CART circuit for Ganassi.
"It's not because they're unable to win this race," said Ganassi, who owned Juan Montoya's winning car last year at Indy. "Our team has proven that we can train rookie drivers in the past, and it's also our goal to set up our drivers to succeed. Right now, we need Bruno and Nicolas focused on their training and development within the CART series."
When Stewart attempted the double in 1999, he finished ninth in the 500, flew to North Carolina and placed fourth in the 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Though Stewart said he would stick to the 600 from then on, he couldn't pass on the chance to drive for Ganassi.
"When Chip called I said this is the right opportunity to come do this the right way and do it the way that I feel like we have to to have an opportunity to win," Stewart said.
Vasser drove for Ganassi for six years -- he won the 1996 CART championship -- before signing with Patrick Racing this season. He finished seventh last season at Indianapolis. Vasser was running second to teammate Montoya until he stopped for gas with four laps remaining. "Returning to the Indy 500 last year was one of the highlights of my career," Vasser said. "I've had some nice wins throughout my career, but winning at Indy has always been a goal."
STILL A BRIDESMAID: Had the Firestone Firehawk 600 not been postponed, CART driver Kenny Brack felt he had a car good enough to lap the field at Texas Motor Speedway.
On Sunday at Nazareth Speedway, Brack again boasted a strong car. He led the most laps in the Lehigh Valley Grand Prix, but he finished second behind 20-year-old Scott Dixon. It was Brack's third second-place finish in 23 career starts.
"I still can't believe where we ended up," Brack said. "You'd like to win one race, at least one, but I guess we'll have to wait."
EVERYTHING'S FINE: Fifteen minutes after they argued on pit road after the Pontiac Excitement 400 on Saturday at Richmond International Raceway, Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon were together again.
The two essentially bumped each other out of a chance to catch Stewart before he won but smiled and patted each other on the back during a post-race interview.
"I think our emotions got the best of us," said Gordon, who finished second. "Rusty and I have been getting along good (lately). He's a fierce racer and I like racing with him, but we're going to bump and bang a little bit out there because we like to finish ahead of one another."
ODDS AND ENDS: Elliott Sadler has struggled since his first career win March 25 at Bristol Motor Speedway. He has finished 16th, 21st, 39th and 23rd in the past four races. ... Mark Martin had a screw removed from his left knee Monday. The screw was inserted in July 1999 after he broke a bone in his knee during practice for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona.
- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.