clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tony Stewart feeling focused, not nostalgic over final Indianapolis race

The native Hoosier is making his 18th NASCAR start at Indianapolis.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Retirement tours often end up being one long goodbye, featuring a parade of gifts with a designated media session where the soon-to-be retired driver shares special memories about that particular track.

Jeff Gordon embarked on such a tour last year. Each stop saw him bestowed with an array of gifts and honors and a string of familiar questions.

Having witnessed this firsthand, when Tony Stewart announced 2016 would his last as a full-time competitor, he made his feelings abundantly clear there would be no repeat of what Gordon went through. To experience a similar kind of pomp and circumstance would make Stewart uncomfortable, who instead preferred to focus on finding the competitiveness he had been lacking in recent years.

Accordingly, tracks have mostly avoided the grand gestures of gratitude towards Stewart they lavished on Gordon. Ever since returning after missing the first eight races with a broken back, it's largely been business as usual with minimal indication Stewart is done racing full-time NASCAR at the end of the year.

Exactly how he wanted it.

But it would stand to reason this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the site of Sunday's Brickyard 400, may be the exemption. That Stewart would welcome his favorite track, the one he adored growing up in nearby Columbus, Ind., paying tribute on some level. Or that the 45-year-old, who's largely downplayed his retirement, would be feeling a bit nostalgic as he prepares for his final race at the venerable speedway.

Nope. Not so.

"You guys (the media) are going to make a lot more out of this than what I'm going to make out of it this weekend," Stewart said Friday at Indianapolis. "I am literally just coming here in my mind like it is just another race, and it's another weekend here at Indy. I'm not doing all the sentimental crying stuff that you guys think I'm going to be doing. I'm going to race this weekend.

"I have no clue how many friends and family will be here this weekend. It was not my responsibility to get them all here. I don't know how many of them are here. I will see them after the race is over."

Yet in the same breath, Stewart admits his preparation heading into the weekend is unlike ever before. Indianapolis means more to him than any other on the NASCAR schedule. And a third Brickyard 400 victory would have added significance because of the circumstances.

"I'm more focused," he said. "I'm probably more prepared for a Brickyard than I have been any other year.

"It is probably the most focused I've been getting ready for a race. It is not amped up, or anything that. I'm just really relaxed and focused and feel good going into it. That is the way I need to do it."

After three years of personal tragedy, multiple injuries and enduring a career-worst 84-race winless streak, Stewart enters the weekend resembling the driver who won three Cup Series championships and ranks 13th on the all-time wins list.

Over the past six races Stewart's exhibited the highest level of consistency since 2012. He snapped that lengthy losing streak with a determined drive last month on the Sonoma road course, finished fifth two weeks ago at Kentucky Speedway and second last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

This turnaround not only made Stewart a virtual lock to qualify for NASCAR's playoffs (despite missing eight races with a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra sustained in a January all-terrain vehicle accident), but helped restore his confidence.

"It's been a long while. I mean, it's a good feeling I can tell you that," Stewart said. "... When you finally get going and you start running up front with guys that you are used to running with again then you are getting text messages after the race saying, ‘Hey it was glad to see you up there with us again.' That is the stuff that makes you feel like, ‘Hey we are back where we belong now.'"