TERRE HAUTE —
Anytime the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion comes to Terre Haute, it’s a special day for Wabash Valley racing fans.
For Tony Stewart, it’s a special opportunity to return to his roots in racing. The three-time Sprint Cup series champ was planning to run for Tony Stewart Racing in the UMP Modifieds race as part of “First Financial Bank Tony Stewart Night with Kenny Wallace.”
But with the Hoosier Tire Midwest Sprint Car Series (MSCS) feature slated to cap Tuesday night’s racing at the Terre Haute Action Track, Stewart decided to join his team’s top sprint driver, Levi Jones, on the 1/2-mile dirt oval that was part of Stewart’s rise in racing during the 1990s.
“We were just gonna run the Modified, then we got here and, I don’t know, when I saw the sprint car sitting here, I didn’t want to miss the chance to do it. I haven’t run a non-wing sprint car for about seven years,” Stewart said in his team’s pit after running a few hot laps in each car.
Stewart, a Columbus native who made his name known in sprint cars, became the first driver to win the U.S. Auto Club Triple Crown — winning the sprint, midget and Silver Crown series titles — in 1995 at 24. His career took off as he entered the NASCAR Busch Series in 1996, then won the Indy Racing League title in 1997.
Stewart said prior to the sprint race Tuesday that his best memory in Terre Haute was coming from 19th to win the Hut Hundred in 1995.
Now, visiting Terre Haute is a chance to take a break from the grind of the Sprint Cup schedule. Stewart, who is eighth in the standings, is coming off a second-place finish in the Quicken Loans 400 on Sunday at Brooklyn, Mich.
“It’s a good time. Our Cup guys have been on the road for 11 out of 12 days and those are full days.
“It is [relaxing] to be here. It felt different from what I’ve been running,” Stewart said.
Stewart has stayed involved in sprint racing since his rise to stardom. He owns Eldora Speedway in Ohio. He’s run random UMP Modified races in recent years, but as he said, it’s been about seven years since he had driven a non-wing sprint car. He was looking forward to running both.
“They’ve just got two different handling characteristics, so you get used to driving it right away,” Stewart said.
Stewart was joined by Wallace and Justin Allgaier of the NASCAR Nationwide Series for the UMP Modifieds race Tuesday. Wallace spoke to the Action Track fans prior to the feature races, tossing T-shirts into the stands and exclaiming his happiness about returning to the “legendary Terre Haute Action Track.”
Stewart also was asked about his historic series championship in 2011 in which he capped the Chase with a victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the series finale. The win tied him with Carl Edwards in points, but Stewart’s five victories gave him the crown, which was his first since 2005.
Stewart was the first driver of the Chase series to win five races in a season.
“That was seven months ago, so it’s long gone,” Stewart said in a reminder that he’s focused directly on 2012.