Tony Stewart eyes Indianapolis 500 for first time since 2001

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Tony Stewart (Getty Images)

Tony Stewart isn’t a stranger to the race track, even after his retirement in 2016.

Since then, he’s picked up wins at the United Sprint Car Series Spring Speed Xplosion finale in 2017 and has 17 top-five finishes on various dirt tracks this season. But the three-time NASCAR champion is setting his sights on something bigger: the Indianapolis 500. 

Stewart hasn’t competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 2001, but said Tuesday “it’s not out of the question,” via NBC Sports. He added he would want to run at least one IndyCar race before returning in 2019.

“If I go, I’m not going just to run it,” Stewart said. “I don’t want to be a sideshow like Danica (Patrick) was at Indy this year. If I go, I want to go feeling like I’ve got the same opportunity to win that everyone else in the field does.

“It’s an insult to the guys who do it every week to show up and think you’re going to be as good as those guys are. They’re on their game. They know their cars. They know how they need their cars to feel in practice to be good in the race. It’s foolish to think you can just show up and be competitive and have a shot to win.”

Stewart, 47, has five appearances in the Indy 500. He started on pole as a rookie in 1996 and led 64 laps in a career-best fifth-place finish the following year. He hasn’t had any discussions with teams yet regarding his return.

“I care about running well in the car,” Stewart said. “I don’t want to be the circus sideshow. If I do it, that’s not why I’m doing it. If I do it, I’m doing it because I want to win the race.

“One race might not be enough to feel like you’re where you need to be. But at least little things like pit stops and having that much duration of time in the seat to make sure no points or parts of the seat are pinching — things when you’re only in it for 10 minutes you don’t notice, but two hours you notice it. Those are things to sort out once you get there.”