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Pedley: Tony Stewart To Get A Dream Ride

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 2 2011

Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton takes Tony Stewart's car for a ride in Barcelona. (Photo courtesy of Chevorlet)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Let’s see what’s in the old Morning Memo today:

The word over the past decade or so among racing’s literati has been this: If there is one NASCAR driver who could make the transition to Formua 1, it would be Tony Stewart.

A couple weeks from now, those wondering if the word is correct – including Stewart himself – will get a partial answer.

On June 14 at the Watkins Glen International road course, Stewart will do a ride trade with Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton will take some laps in Stewart’s Sprint Cup car and Stewart will take the wheel of Hamilton’s McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 F-1 car.

The exhibition is to take place on the 3.4-mile, 11-turn long course at The Glen.

Stewart seemed as relieved as excited about the opportunity to get into the kind of car which every race car driver in the world secretly hopes to drive.

“I think the further my career went along the more that you wanted to have opportunities

Britain's Lewis Hamilton will swap rides with Tony Stewart later this month.

to drive everything,” he said. “We’ve driven monster trucks at Talladega, I mean, you name it.  We’ve driven 22 different types of race cars over my career.  And obviously having the opportunity to race in the IRL and IndyCar Series there and knowing that the final step of that would be Formula 1, it was always a goal once we got to there to just say that at some point we could get an opportunity to drive one.”

But then, in the late 1990s, Stewart began gravitating toward stock cars.

“Once I stopped racing in the IRL full-time and started NASCAR full-time, it was basically I thought that opportunity would never come about. But thankfully our partners at Mobil 1 had found out about that.  It was actually in a conversation, and we were just talking about when Jeff Gordon and Juan Montoya did it at Indianapolis. They took that ball and ran with it.

“Next thing we knew they had talked to McLaren and had basically set all this up for us

Tony Stewart will lose his fenders at The Glen. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Erik J. Perel)

to be able to go to Watkins Glen and Lewis was going to have a chance to drive our Cup car, and I’ll have a chance to drive his Formula 1 car, so I’m really excited about it.”

F-1 cars weigh about 600 pounds less than a Cup car but are more powerful, rev twice as high, hold the ground and are extremely quick (as in zero to 100 and back to zero in less than five seconds).

They are not easy to drive. But for racers, they sure are fun.

Stewart was asked if he talked to Gordon about his exchange with Montoya.

“Yeah, he was really high on it,” Stewart said. “I knew some of the stuff that he was going to say because my IRL experience.  But I had never ran the road courses, but Jeff was really impressed with how quick they accelerated, how quick they decelerated and just the downforce levels those cars have.

“So I’m somewhat familiar with what kind of down force they’ll have.  But I’ve never run one at a road course, so it’s going to be one of these things you can talk about it all day long, but you’re not going to really fully understand it until you get a chance to sit in the car and drive it.”

Memo to self: Love to see Kyle Busch get that chance next.

Indy bummer

JR Hildebrand seems like a great kid. Soft-spoken, humble, patient. There was a sick

Panther Racing founder and CEO John Barnes and his young driver.

feeling in the gut when he crashed in the final turn while leading the Indianapolis 500 last weekend.

But I felt much worse for the people on his Panther Racing team.

Founder and CEO John Barnes is what racing is all about. At any pro level. It is not an ego trip for him. It is not a side job for him. John Barnes’ race team is John Barnes’ life.

And as opposed to many others who share that designation, Barnes has found ways to become successful on a team that is more about efficiency and thought than spending money.

Barnes and Panther won three championships with Sam Hornish Jr. as their driver in the earlier era of IndyCar racing. When owners like Penske and Ganassi began drifting over to the Indy Racing League from CART, Panther did not throw up the hands and holler.

They would hire the best drivers and people they could afford, work the fringes of the sponsorship quests and keep going.

At a restaurant in Indianapolis last summer prior to the running of the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race, somebody tapped on my shoulder. It was Barnes.

It was after relatively new INDYCAR boss Randy Bernard had announced the new plan for his series. The plan which included a massive revamp of cars and equipment.

Barnes said that the move would cause massive financial hardship for teams like his.

I asked if he could survive the change.

Barnes didn’t blink. “We’ll find a way,” he said.

Memo to self: The day that Barnes and wonderful long-time Panther co-owner Mike Griffin cannot find a way will be the day I won’t care if anybody can find a way.

Tough spot

Pat Warren’s neck will be stuck way out  this weekend. As long-time official at Kansas Speedway the the track’s current president, Warren has long fought for a second Cup date for his track.

Kansas Speedway gets its wish. (File photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

This year, he gets it in the form of Sunday’s STP 400.

With no venue selling out this year, neither, it appears, will Kansas. When/if it does not, out will come the screamers who launched when the Heartland’s only facility was awarded its second date at the expense of Southern California.

No matter how many tickets Kansas does not sell, the belief here is that two races in Kansas is a good idea. The place is a regional track, attracting fans from as far away as Colorado and the Dakotas. NASCAR needs to stay connected with those people.

The first 10 years of racing in Kansas has proved popular and all Sprint Cup events have been sellouts or near sellouts.

Because of its regional quality, the buzz it generates in the Kansas City area, the amenities the track and city offer fans, Kansas is one of five or so track which should have two dates.

The other four: Daytona, Texas, Charlotte and Michigan.

Memo to self: Accept no phone calls from other areas this weekend.


Add Eddie Cheever to the list of top television voices for racing. The former driver is articulate, knowledgable, restrained and likable.

Next year in IndyCAr, would love to see a Cheever/Paul Page broadcast team. You know, a professional operation and yes, I’m looking at you Versus.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 2 2011
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