INDIANAPOLIS - Tony Stewart hasn’t lost his passion to win the Indianapolis 500.
But he may never get that chance racing stock cars.
The two-time NASCAR champion returned to Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday to help Chevrolet unveil its new midget-car engine, an appearance that prompted another round of questions about Stewart's plans and whether they might include IndyCars.
"There's a part of me that thinks running at Indy and in IndyCar is a chapter of my life that is closed," he said. "Then there is the emotional part of me that says, 'Never say never.' I don’t know if I'll ever get in an IndyCar again, but if that happens, it's going to be a long way down the road because I have a lot of commitments on the NASCAR side."
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Stewart has been running with Joe Gibbs Racing since 1998, and his current contract doesn't expire until the end of next season. Yet he’s already fielding offers from other teams and said last month he had discussed terminating the deal early, depending on which offer he accepts. Some of those offers also include ownership of a team.
Many believe Stewart, who turns 37 on May 20, is looking to move in part because he has long ties to Chevrolet, one of the Cup series' manufacturers. JGR is now using Toyotas, and Stewart remains winless this season after winning 32 times in his first nine years on the Cup circuit.
While Stewart acknowledged he considered Chevy's deal with his own open-wheel teams a personal endorsement, he brushed off the suggestion that he was upset with driving a Toyota.
"It wasn't weird when we started the program," he said. "It wasn't weird then, and it's not weird now. When we started our (open-wheel) program, Mopar provided us with engines and both sides understood."
As so often happens when the Indiana native visits the speedway, however, the discussion quickly turned to one of his favorite subjects - the Indy 500 - and whether he would still like to race here.
The answer: Only if it's a full-time gig in the IRL.
"If I was going to come to Indianapolis again, I don't want to come and show up for the month of May," he said. "If I am going to do it, I need to start at Homestead. I need to run all of the races leading up to the month of May to really feel like I am being fair to the team and being fair to myself. ... As long as I'm driving a stock car, that basically takes that part of it out of the equation."
Stewart's speedway visits have almost become part of the track's annual tradition.
He returns each summer for the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, an event he has won two of the last three years. In 1999 and 2001, he did the grueling double, racing 500 miles at Indy early in the day before flying Charlotte to compete in the Coca-Cola 600 the same night.
And in 2004, he provided some Bump Day drama by climbing into one of A.J. Foyt's cars. The team rolled the car onto pit road, and Stewart was seated in the cockpit when he was told his contract prohibited him from driving.
That won't happen this year after team president J.D. Gibbs gave Stewart strict instructions.
"J.D. told me not to even grab hold of a helmet or jump in a suit," Stewart said.