Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Stewart's landmark win at the Brickyard paved way for 2005 Chase title
By David Newton ESPN.com
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tony Stewart had dreamed of winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since he was a 10-year-old ripping up the front lawn with his go-kart at his Columbus, Ind., home some 40 miles away from the historic track.
He dreamed about it so much that it hurt.
Then, on a hot, sunny afternoon in August 2005, all the pain went away.
Stewart, 34, won on the track where he watched childhood heroes such as A.J. Foyt win the Indianapolis 500. He got to kiss the famous yard of bricks nine months after moving back into his childhood home to restore order to a life that had been confused by on- and off-the-track distractions and confrontations.
That he made the winning pass on Kasey Kahne with 11 laps to go in front of his Turn 2 suite filled with family members, neighbors and hometown friends made it almost surreal.
"This is everything I ever wanted and dreamed of," Stewart had said over his car radio as he took the checkered flag. "If I die tomorrow, my life's complete."
For everything that happened that season, from Stewart's winning his second championship to Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s failing to make the Chase to Kurt Busch's and Jamie McMurray's getting out of their contracts a year early to go to another team, nothing stood out more than this moment.
"There's only two things in life, living and dreaming," said Stewart's father, Nelson, after watching his son climb the fence in front of the flag stand. "If you get to live your dream, how much better does it get?"
Even Stewart thinks of that moment more than anything else, including hoisting the Cup trophy after the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and again at the banquet in New York City, when reliving that season.
Hometown hero Tony Stewart gets vertical to salute his fans after winning at the Brickyard in 2005.
"Winning the Brickyard was huge," he said this past weekend at Richmond. "That was something that was really, really big to me, and that just took a lot of pressure off from that moment on for the rest of the season, of just being relaxed and confident that what we were doing was right.
"That was a huge pivot point for us."
The win was Stewart's fourth in six weeks, and it thrust him into the points lead for the first time to erase any memory of a lackluster first half of the year. He went on to win the following week at Watkins Glen and coasted into the Chase with a huge lead over Greg Biffle.
Nothing in the Chase was quite so dramatic, other maybe than newcomer Carl Edwards' winning consecutive races at Atlanta and Texas to climb into contention with two weeks remaining.
Stewart lulled the then-10-driver field to sleep with seven top-10 finishes, including second-place finishes at New Hampshire, Talladega and Martinsville. He relinquished the points lead outright only once and cruised to a 15th-place finish in the finale at Homestead-Miami to win the title by 35 points over Edwards and Biffle.
Perhaps the most newsworthy moment of the Chase came on the highway leading away from Phoenix International Raceway. There, 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch was ticketed for reckless driving. He then was suspended for the final two races by the Roush organization that reluctantly released him to Penske Racing for 2006.
Other moments that stood out included:
• Gordon's winning the Daytona 500 for the third time in his career while Stewart, who led a race-high 107 laps, finished seventh.
• Kahne's leading a race-high 242 laps at Richmond International Raceway to hold off his childhood idol, Stewart, for his first Cup win.
• Mark Martin's postponing his retirement plans for the first time to fill the void left by Busch.
• The illustrious careers of Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd coming to an end.
• NASCAR's announcement that teams would be limited to four cars after Roush Fenway Racing put five in the Chase.
• Gordon's and Earnhardt's missing the Chase, leaving some to wonder whether the format would survive without two of its biggest stars not participating.
• Robbie Loomis' stepping down as Gordon's crew chief four days after the team missed the Chase and announcing he would join Petty Enterprises in 2006.
But nothing stood out more than the pure pleasure underneath the sweat-covered face of Stewart after his win at Indianapolis.
"This is one of those days I don't want to end," Stewart said then. "I don't want to see the sun set. It's definitely the greatest day of my life. Today has been my life."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.