1100 miles in one day

Tony Stewart is certainly not the first driver to attempt to race in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Winston Cup race on the same day. In fact, he's already done it before, finishing ninth at Indy and fourth in the 600 in 1999.

1100 miles in one day

But, Stewart has the best chance of winning one, or both, of the major Memorial Day Weekend races on Sunday.

In an era when motorsport has become extremely specialised, Stewart has become the most versatile driver in racing. The 30-year-old driver became a name when he became the first driver to win three major national championships in the same year by winning the USAC midget, sprint and Silver Crown titles in 1995.

The next year, he joined the Indy Racing League and competed in the NASCAR Busch Series. He became a rapid success in the IRL, started on the pole for his first Indianapolis 500 in 1996 and won the 1997 Indy Racing League title.

He left Indy cars for NASCAR Winston Cup in 1999, winning a record three races in his first season to become rookie of the year. Stewart has 10 Winston Cup wins in just a little over two seasons and is a legitimate threat to win the Winston Cup championship.

So when team owner Chip Ganassi was looking for a driver capable of winning the Indianapolis 500, the CART and NASCAR Winston Cup team owner chose Stewart and CART driver Jimmy Vasser to anchor his team.

"Obviously, he has the experience, he has the race craft, he has the ability - he is one of the few drivers you can get outside the circle of day-in, day-out group of open wheel drivers that is a legitimate contender right away," Ganassi said. "It's nice to have a guy get in your car and go fast right away. He meshed well with the team right away. He meshed well with engineers and he meshed well with the other drivers."

Stewart has called this the best ride he has ever had at the Indianapolis 500. It's the defending winning team of last year's race at Indy and, with Stewart behind the wheel, it can win again.

Stewart's stress level will be tested if it rains at Indianapolis on Sunday. He has to compete in the Coca-Cola 600 because his primary commitment is with Joe Gibbs' Racing in NASCAR Winston Cup. If it appears that the race will start late, eliminating Stewart's ability to get in the race car to start the NASCAR race, then he will have to turn the wheel over to standby driver Richie Hearn.

"We're worried about winning races, not watching stopwatches and clocks," said Stewart, who has a little over an hour to get from Indianapolis to Charlotte. "We know what time it is and at that time, I have to stop. To be honest, at that time, I have to stop.

"If I'm leading the race, I have to stop. I gave Joe a commitment saying at a certain time I'm going to stop and I'm going to do that. I have a commitment in Charlotte."

Another major factor that Stewart must face is the physical and mental strain that comes with the demands of racing in two tremendous events.

Stewart's secret weapon is Al Shuford, a longtime strength coach who currently works for the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League. Shuford has worked with Stewart all month, radically changing Stewart's eating habits in an attempt to provide more nutrition for the strenuous task of racing 1100 miles in the same day.

The hardest transition for Stewart is cutting down from over 10 colas a day. Water and Power-Ade have replaced those.

"The mental part for him has been extremely easy for me," Shuford said. "He is so motivated because winning the Indianapolis 500 is the one thing he hasn't done. Anything short of me telling him to chew on the edge of the building that will make him better is extremely easy. He's done everything you can do in every division except winning the Indianapolis 500 and winning the Winston Cup title, and he's making a run at both of them.

"He has bought into what we are doing and is keeping his eye on the prize."

Shuford said the mental edge involves a process that he started the first day of practice that will keep him safe in the car.

"He has to believe that we have done everything possible and that he has done everything possible to keep him safe in the car," Shuford said. "Once you have done that, he will do anything for you."

Shuford admits there are some serious fatigue concerns. Stewart is attempting to race 500 miles in the biggest race in the world, getting hustled out of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway onto a private jet, flying to Concord Regional Airport and then taken by helicopter to Lowe's Motor Speedway for 600 hard miles of NASCAR racing.

"There are some fatigue concerns, but we aren't worried about it because we are addressing those issues so we don't have to worry about it," Shuford said. "I think we are on pace with him. Tony Stewart, Chip Ganassi and Joe Gibbs all feel good about it.

"Without giving out any trade secrets, we have some light carbohydrate food that I let him pick out to eat on the way down. With some rest, I think we are ready to go. What he is going to race on Sunday is already in his system."

Shuford has worked on making sure calcium, potassium and salt levels are in his systems along with making sure he gets plenty of fluids.

"This is nothing new we are doing here," Shuford said. "We didn't start this. We have Bobby Labonte on it and all the guys at the Gibbs shop on it. But, Tony was not on this two years ago."

Stewart's weight will be monitored after he gets out of the car at Indianapolis and Shuford will test him mentally before he gets into the race car at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Stewart said he has an addiction to racing. He likes driving race cars more than anything else in his life. That is why he is prepared for the Titanic task of racing 1100 miles.

"I'm the only one and Al Shuford are the only ones that know if I'm ready to do this or not," Stewart said.

Stewart learned from his mistakes in 1999, when he had plenty of fluids, but not enough solid food to keep his energy level high in the two races. Stewart felt fine when he left Indianapolis, and drove from the rear of the field to the front in the Coca-Cola 600, but became loopy during the final 30 laps, settling for a fourth-place finish.

He knows he will have to start at the back of the field in the Coca-Cola 600 because he will miss the mandatory drivers meeting at Lowe's Motor Speedway. That means he will start the race 43rd but has shown the ability to drive to the front.

Stewart is scheduled to board a private plane in Indianapolis at 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time and land in Concord, North Carolina at 4:55. He will then board a helicopter to Lowe's Motor Speedway, land in the infield grass at the start/finish line at 5:10 p.m., just five minutes before driver introductions.

The command to start the Coca-Cola 600 is at 5:37 p.m. with the green flag at 5:45 p.m.

He tried this in 1999 and vowed he would never do it again, but the lure of winning the Indianapolis 500 is something that couldn't keep the driver away.

"This is the one race I've wanted to win my entire life," Stewart said. "That's why I'm not only ready, but willing to do this. But, all I can do is take it lap-by-lap. I can't be thinking about one job and doing another job at the same time.

"You never can win enough races. This is what I do."

So, while most race fans will be enjoying a holiday weekend watching two of the biggest races in the world, Stewart will spend his holiday working overtime.

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