Fifteen years ago this weekend, Tony Stewart pulled off one of the most impressive racing feats in recent memory. Right after finishing sixth in the Indianapolis 500, Stewart flew to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he placed third in the Coca-Cola 600 that same night.
This evening, Stewart is hoping for more Charlotte magic — preferably in the form of a win in the final Coca-Cola 600 start of his storied career.
Stewart has won on the track twice before — once in the UAW-GM Quality 500 in October 2003 and again at the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race seven years ago.
He had another close call in 2008, when a huge late lead evaporated after Stewart’s right front tire got cut.
“Yeah, that’s definitely the one that sticks out the most in my mind,” the Columbus native recalled. “I mean, we had a five-second lead with three laps to go. … We had run 100 laps on the right-side tires, so it just physically melted the bead on the right front.”
Though Stewart said he’s more a fan of shorter races at this stage in his career, he noted that because of the history of the race and what Memorial Day means to him, this weekend still carries a special significance.
“There’s just a lot of tradition that surrounds the month of May in Charlotte,” Stewart said. “So this is a big race. It’s an important race to win.”
A big finish also would help Stewart climb the ladder in the Sprint Cup points standings. In order to qualify for the season-ending Chase for the Cup, he would need to pick up a victory and finish the season in the top 30. He is currently 37th with 94 points — 65 points back of the 30th position.
THIS WEEKEND’S RACE
Coca-Cola 600, 6 p.m. (Fox)
Starting position: 21st
Finished 20th in NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
CHASE FOR THE CUP
Last week: No points awarded
Season total: 94 points (37th)