Tony Stewart to Make NASCAR BGN Debut at IRP
17 July 1997
STEWART TO MAKE DEBUT WITH JOE GIBBS RACING IN A BUSCH GRAND NATIONAL CAR AT IRP; WILL RUN FOYT'S SILVER CROWN CAR AS WELL Tony Stewart will make his debut in a Joe Gibbs-owned NASCAR Busch Grand National car at Indianapolis Raceway Park at the Friday, August 1, Kroger NASCAR 200. In addition, he will compete in the DuPont 100 USAC Silver Crown Series race at IRP on July 30, driving one of two cars owned by A.J. Foyt. The other Foyt car will be piloted by Davey Hamilton, one of Stewart's competitors in the Indy Racing League. Stewart will drive a 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix at IRP and five other BGN events in 1997. The car sponsor has not yet been announced. Stewart said IRP is a good track to begin his Busch Grand National career with the Gibbs team. "IRP has always held a special place in my heart, and I can't think of a better place to debut with Joe Gibbs," he said. "This track is very familiar to me, so it's not like I'll be starting out with a new team at a new track. It'll eliminate some variables for me that a lot of other new Busch Series drivers have to deal with." Some of Stewart's most impressive racing triumphs have taken place at IRP in USAC Midgets, Sprints and Silver Crown cars. As of press time, he has a total of ten wins at the .686-mile oval. Stewart said that he was a bit apprehensive about the move to stock cars, but couldn't resist the golden opportunity awaiting him with Joe Gibbs Racing. "For Joe and Bobby Labonte to have enough trust in me to run the car really makes me feel good," said Stewart. "There's a lot of depth in that team -- Joe's a really good leader and Bobby's a good coach and teacher, so it's nice to have that kind of combination." Labonte currently drives the Interstate Batteries Pontiac for Gibbs in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Kristi Oldham, Stewart's business manager, said he plans to run a full Indy Racing League schedule in 1998, plus all the BGN races that do not conflict with IRL events. Stewart will test a Winston Cup car as well. According to Gibbs, Stewart was the only choice for a driver for a new car. "We knew that we were not going to go to a two-car team unless we got the right driver, and Tony was the guy at the top of everyone's list," he said. "We're looking forward to Tony's debut at IRP -- he really wants to do well and we're preparing for it as carefully as possible so that can happen." Stewart tested the new car for two days at IRP, July 14 and 15. He ran a lap at 22.42 seconds -- almost two tenths of a second quicker than Randy LaJoie's 22.601-second pole position qualifying mark at the 1996 Kroger NASCAR 200. Stewart is not taking anything for granted when it comes to making the race, however. "The big challenge is getting in the show here," he said. "The 36 guys who competed in the Kroger NASCAR 200 last year were within three tenths of a second of one another; that's tighter than normally the top six guys in a USAC midget show."