Opinion: Tony Stewart shouldn't worry about the 'Double,' just focus on Indy 500

Tony Stewart stands in the garage at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Could he really run the Indy 500 next season? - Justin Edmonds

At the time, it seemed like an innocent remark – nothing more than a little joke between two icons who share an appreciation for the rich history of the Indianapolis 500.

While there may have been some truth in Roger Penske's quip to Tony Stewart during the NASCAR banquet that he would have a car ready for him if Stewart decided he wanted to compete in next year's Indy 500, most people didn't take it seriously.

After all, Stewart has said many times he no longer has interest in competing in a race he always wanted to win. At this point in his career, Stewart has said he's moved past fulfilling his boyhood dream and is content being a NASCAR team owner and driver.

However, with a few days to reflect, Stewart should take Penske up on his offer.

In 14 seasons, Stewart has accomplished just about all there is to do in NASCAR. He's won three Cup titles and 47 races, and the team that bears his name has quickly become a powerhouse in the garage with three full-time teams and a possible fourth car being added for Kevin Harvick in 2014.

But despite all his success in NASCAR – and with more victories and championships a definite possibility – the time is now for Stewart to re-evaluate his stance on competing in the Indy 500.

In fact, he should run it at the expense of his NASCAR season.

Forget doing the "Double." Just run the Indy 500.

There's already been talk about moving start times to accommodate Stewart's schedule. Then he could do what he's tried previously, which is to run both Indy and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day.

But if he's serious about winning at Indy, then he needs to commit himself fully to the task at hand. Come next May, Stewart should take a short leave of absence from his current full-time job as a NASCAR driver and spend two weeks focusing entirely on winning his first Indy 500.

The morning after Darlington's Saturday night Cup race is the start of Indy 500 practice. Stewart could fly to Indy and be present for the entire week of practice sessions, then skip the non-points NASCAR All-Star Race on Saturday night to qualify his Indy 500 entry (though he might even have enough time to qualify and then get to Charlotte for the start).

Then, when Memorial Day Weekend arrives, Stewart should stay put in Indy. And that won't be the end of his Chase hopes.

In fact, the current Chase format makes Stewart's decision all the easier: If he were to run in the 2013 edition of the 500 and do so in the proper manner, he would only miss one points event and still would have 25 races to secure a wild card berth.

As Mark Martin showed last year, it's possible to run a limited schedule and still finish high enough in the standings to be eligible for a wild card spot. Whereas Martin missed nine regular-season races, Stewart would only be sitting out one points race and still would have a shot at finishing in the top 10.

Typically, the career of an open-wheel driver is far shorter than someone who wheels a stock car for a living (the oldest 500 victor on record is Al Unser Sr., who won his fourth Indy 500 at 46). And with time still on his side, Stewart, 41, should focus on winning the race he's always wanted to win more than any other.

If Penske was even the slight bit serious – which it seems he was – Stewart needs to jump at the opportunity in front of him. Undoubtedly, The Captain would provide Stewart with a car capable of winning and with both parties having an existing relationship with Chevrolet – Stewart in NASCAR, Penske in IndyCar – there should be little resistance to the two forming a union.

Once Stewart fulfills his dream, then he could come back to NASCAR and resume his quest to win the Daytona 500 and join Foyt and Mario Andretti as the only drivers to win both Indy and Daytona.

As Martin, Dale Earnhardt and others have shown, you can win races in NASCAR in your golden years – and there is little reason to think Stewart won't be competitive even as he creeps up on his 50th birthday.

And with a victory at Indy to go with a resumé that includes championships in NASCAR and IndyCar – as well as the first driver to win USAC's "Triple Crown" (and we'll assume he's eventually going to win the Daytona 500), Stewart would have a very good case for being not just the greatest driver of his era, but perhaps of all time.

When it comes down to it, whether he wants to admit it or not, Stewart will likely always have some sort of regret that he never experienced what it was like to sip milk in the winner's circle at Indy.

In life very few people have the chance to do everything they've always dreamed of doing – but that is exactly the opportunity Stewart has before him. Now, all he has to do is pick up the phone and give Penske the answer everyone wants him to give.

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