Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick: Changes at Indianapolis enhance the 500

Jared C. Tilton

Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick are excited for the changes surrounding the Indianapolis 500.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick both have storied histories at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and both consider themselves traditionalists of the sport in a sense. But at the same time, they also approve of the litany of changes coming to the Speedway, month of May and the Indianapolis 500.

A road course race at IMS was added to the 500 festivities and will kick off the month on May 11 prior to the first week of ‘500' practice. Changes are also coming to the qualifying procedure with the IndyCar Series expected to announce a format where the pole is decided on the second day (Sunday) of qualifications as opposed to Saturday.

Many of these changes have been met with resistance by IndyCar's long-time fan base but Stewart, a  five-time 500 participant and the 1997 IRL champion, says he doesn't see where the alterations will do anything to harm the long-term health of the event.

"I don't think we'll know for sure until we see it happen but I don't see it (hurting the month of May,)" Stewart told SB Nation. "I think having two races like this adds to the excitement.

"Sure, it's not traditional and people who are traditional don't like change but it's like our sport (NASCAR) where there are a lot of changes, forcing some fans to look back and want the old ways anytime something new is suggested."

Stewart added that he believes that the sanctioning bodies -- be it NASCAR or IndyCar -- is always working in the sport's best interest when it comes to the decision-making process.

"When it comes to sanctioning bodies, they think about these things much more than we do as fans and they think they are positives," Stewart said.

Meanwhile, Patrick enters her second year at Stewart-Haas Racing and third year away from the sport. Patrick says she has given up pursuing IndyCar after "things didn't work out last year" and that she's focused entirely on her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series program.

"I love the Indy 500, it's an amazing event and everyone should go see it sometime," Patrick said. "But as far as me as a driver, I'm not seeking it out anymore. That's not to say that I wouldn't take the opportunity if I was given a position to win but after last year, I'm just not interesting in seeking it out."

As a result, Patrick has all but distanced herself from Indy car racing. She explained that she's still a fan and wishes the league the best but that she's spending most of her time lately just trying to understand the vast array of new rules in NASCAR this season.

But she's also excited for the road course race at IMS adding that it could increase the attention and focus upon the 500 at the end of the month.

"When you're at one place for such a long time, you need to find ways to get people talking about why you're there -- which is the Indy 500," Patrick said. "So yeah, it will get some buzz going around Indianapolis and a lot of people get to be home."

And does the second race at IMS take away from the Greatest Spectacle in Racing?

"I don't see it that way at all," Patrick said.

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