Saturday, April 19, 2003
Updated: April 20, 9:50 PM ET
Stewart gets call to drive in Indy 500
By Robin Miller
Special to ESPN.com
Michael Andretti's team has been ravaged by injuries this month but his May Day cry is about to be answered.
ESPN.com has learned that defending NASCAR champ Tony Stewart is in line to replace Dario Franchitti on Andretti's team for the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Stewart still hasn't signed a contract with Andretti-Green Racing, but preparations were underway to build him a seat and have him start testing Tuesday or Wednesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He would be teammates with rookie Dan Wheldon, Andretti and Tony Kanaan (if he's healthy enough).
The versatile 32-year-old native of Columbus, Ind., had previously said despite his passion for Indy, he wouldn't jeopardize his Winston Cup effort by running Indy and Charlotte on the same day -- like he did in 1999 and 2001.
Winless so far in 2003 but a notorious slow starter, Stewart stands seventh in the Winston Cup standings after nine races.
Racing USAC midgets in Modesto, Calif. on Saturday night, he could not be reached for comment. But, evidently, the opportunity to drive one of the factory Hondas for one of the best teams was too good to pass up.
The NASCAR schedule is very accomodating to Stewart. There is no Cup race the first weekend of qualifying at Indy (May 10-11) so he'll be able to come right from his stock car show at Richmond, Va., on May 4 and practice that entire first week leading up to time trials. NASCAR runs The Winston on May 17 at Charlotte, N.C., as a prelude to the annual Coca Cola 600 on the evening of May 25.
Co-owner Kim Green, who didn't return phone calls to ESPN.com, admitted last week that Stewart was on his short list of replacements for Franchitti, who fractured his back while riding a motorcycle on April and is out of action for three months.
Kanaan, who suffered a broken left arm in the last IRL race at Japan but is expected to be ready by at least the second week at Indy, has two poles, one victory and was battling Scott Dixon for the lead at Motegi when they crashed.
The 1997 IRL champion and still the league's career lap leader despite not competing regularly in the all-oval track series since '98, Stewart last drove an Indy car at the Speedway in 2001, finishing sixth for Chip Ganassi.
Andretti, retiring from competition following the May 25 classic, has led 398 laps in 13 starts at Indy but never made it to Victory Lane while Stewart's best finish in five Speedway starts has been fifth.