Stewart has fond memories of Phoenix

Although Tony Stewart won at Phoenix International Raceway as a NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie in 1999, he certainly wasn’t short on experience at the track.

Six years earlier, the Columbus native competed in the Copper World Classic, a USAC Silver Crown race. He started second. led 31 of the 50 laps and finished second to Mike Bliss.

“When we ran the USAC cars out there, it was pretty cool because I had never gone that fast before,” Stewart said in a news release. “It’s just one of those tracks where, to run a Midget and a Silver Crown car there, it definitely got your attention. It was pretty fast.”

This afternoon, Stewart will be back at Phoenix for what likely will be his final time as a Sprint Cup driver. The 49-time winner has announced his retirement from the series following next week’s season finale at Homestead-Miami.

Besides his Copper World Classic run, Stewart and Arie Luyendyk were the two lead test drivers for Firestone when they competed in the IndyCar Series. Because of the year-round warm weather, they spent a lot of time in Phoenix.

“We would spend three days out there tire testing, and we had two or three of those sessions through the winter,” Stewart said. “I got to spend a lot of time running around Phoenix. I got to know every line around the track that’s ever been run and why it’s been run.”

Stewart also has raced USAC Midgets, Super Modifieds and Xfinity Series cars at Phoenix. But it all started in 1993 — at the age of 21 — with the USAC Silver Crown car.

“I’ve logged a bunch of laps there,” Stewart said. “To think that it all kind of started at Phoenix, I guess you could say it’s the place where my career came full circle.”

At a glance

TODAY’S RACE

Can-Am 500, 2:30 p.m. (NBC)

Starting position: 25th

LAST RACE

Finished 31st in AAA Texas 500

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.