Stewart happy to be back on ‘sacred ground’

Tony Stewart is glad to be home.

The Columbus native is back in his native state this weekend as he prepares to run in NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Every driver has a home race, and you’re always excited to race at home,” Stewart said in a news release. “I’m always excited to be at the Brickyard. If you can only win one race a year, I’m still going to pick the Daytona 500. But if you can’t win Daytona as that one race a year, I want to win the Brickyard. It’s just a special place to me.

“The only disheartening thing is, we haven’t been running well going into the weekend,” he said. “I guess it would be a ton worse if we were running really well and all of a sudden we got to the Brickyard and didn’t run well. That would be a worse scenario. But we will still work as hard as we can to get the best result we can.”

Stewart has had mixed results at Indy, beginning with the Indianapolis 500, which he ran five times. He earned the pole in his first race there in 1996 and led 44 laps but finished fourth. The next year, he took fifth, which would become his best Indy 500 finish.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup debut came in 1999 for Stewart. He won the Brickyard 400 in 2005 and 2007 and has seven top-five finishes, 11 top-10s, 227 laps led, an average finish of 8.5 and a perfect lap-completion rate.

“In an Indy car you just don’t lift — if the car’s right,” Stewart said. “But in a stock car, even if it’s right, you’ve got to lift and you’ve got to brake for at least two of the corners. With the other two corners, you just lift, basically. It’s a challenging track in a Cup car. It’s a challenging track in an Indy car too, but if you can get it right in an Indy car then you can run it wide-open around there, and that’s one less variable you’ve got to worry about when it comes to getting around the racetrack.”

Stewart was initially against racing stock cars at the Brickyard when they debuted there in 1994.

“Honestly, I was one that absolutely thought it was a crime, initially,” Stewart said. “I’m a purist. I’m old school. It’s always been sacred ground to me. I remember when they did the tire test there. … There was so much excitement after that, and that really didn’t even get me to switch sides.

“I was actually in Illinois the day that the Brickyard ran, and when I got back and saw the replay of the race, it was very evident that this was something that wasn’t breaking any sort of religious code, so to speak, or sacrilegious for it to be there,” he said. “It really showed why NASCAR belonged there. But in the beginning, I was one of them that didn’t like it until I actually got back and saw the replay of the race and saw how much excitement it brought. It was the month of May historically, and all of a sudden it was the month of May and late-July/August, and you had the same historic racetrack and now you had two events instead of one.”

Stewart still views racing at Indy the same way he did when he first competed at the speedway in 1996.

“When you grow up 45 minutes from Indy, there is nothing that compares to it,” Stewart said. “That is sacred ground to me. It always has been, always will be. I don’t care how many times you win there, it’s never enough. It’s nice to have won two races already there. That gives you confidence of knowing what you have to do to win. It’s just a matter of doing it.”