SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Three-time champion Tony Stewart is doing everything he can to keep his last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway from becoming a sentimental journey.
Despite missing the first eight races of the season because of a back injury suffered during the offseason, Stewart now is comfortably in the top 30 in the series standings, and his unexpected victory at Sonoma in June almost certainly will earn him a berth in the Chase.
So forgive Stewart if he doesn’t get teary-eyed about his final run at the Brickyard. Smoke has more pressing issues on his mind. Stewart is going for his second victory of the season, his third at Indy and the 50th of his career.
“You guys are going to make a lot more out of this than what I’m going to make out of it this weekend,” Stewart told reporters on Friday. “I am literally just coming here in my mind like it’s just another race, and it’s another weekend here at Indy. I’m not doing all the sentimental crying stuff that you guys think I’m going to be doing.
“I’m going to race this weekend. I’m more focused. … I’m probably more prepared for a Brickyard than I have been any other year. I feel like we had a really good tire test here. Felt like our car drove really well. I think they brought the same car back. If not, it’s another one that’s the same generation-type car.”
So don’t dwell on the retirement-tour angle this weekend. Stewart, who will leave the seat of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet at year’s end, isn’t buying it.
“You guys can ask me all about how I’m feeling, thinking, whatever, but you’re wasting my time and your time, because all I care about is driving that race car right now,” he said.
“It’s probably the most focused I’ve been getting ready for a race. It’s not amped up, or anything like that. I’m just really relaxed and focused and feel good going into it. That’s the way I need to do it.”
Jimmie Johnson led opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice with a lap at 184.185 mph. None the worse for wear after his spin in the first session, defending race winner Kyle Busch paced Happy Hour with a lap at 184.619 mph … Jeff Gordon, subbing for ailing Dale Earnhardt Jr., was ninth quickest in opening practice at 179.376 mph. But with most drivers converting to qualifying trim in final practice, Gordon was 25th on the speed chart at 180.375 mph … Danica Patrick, the only female driver to post a top-five finish in the Indianapolis 500, cracked the top 10 in Happy Hour. She was ninth fastest at 182.912 mph.