- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 26, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS | Tony Stewart has spent his entire career emulating A.J. Foyt, his childhood hero who dazzled the young racer with a tough-guy bravado and swashbuckling style.

So when given a chance to pay Foyt the ultimate compliment, Stewart didn’t hesitate: He’ll use the No. 14 next season in honor of the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner.

“It was pretty easy to decide on the number that my all-time hero had,” Stewart said Friday before revealing the two Chevrolets - one sponsored by Office Depot, the other by Old Spice - that he’ll drive next season when he leaves Joe Gibbs Racing to move into an ownership role at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Foyt, who was with the IndyCar Series in Edmonton, couldn’t be on hand to see Stewart reveal the honor at his beloved homestate track. But in true Foyt fashion, he poked fun at his protege for an altercation Stewart had Thursday night with a USAC official at O’Reilly Raceway Park.

Stewart is believed to have knocked the headset off an official as they argued over a call made against Tracy Hines, who drives for Stewart.

“I talked to him early today and said, ‘Just because you’ve got No. 14 don’t mean you had to act like me and jerk the headphones off of the steward,’ ” Foyt said. “I said, ‘Tony, that ain’t helping the reputation of 14. That’s just living up to it.’”

Foyt has had his share of altercations over the years, and that reputation is one of the things that attracted Stewart to him when he was searching for a favorite driver. He loved Foyt for his grit and machoism, and was wowed when he saw the driver get out of his car during an Indianapolis 500, bang on it with a hammer, then resume the race.

Similar in temperament, style and size, many believe Stewart has morphed into a younger version of Foyt.

“A.J. and I, we always like to stir everybody up,” he said. “We like to do things the people say can’t be done and we’re definitely not going to be spokesman for Jenny Craig anytime soon.”

Foyt said it’s their similarities that have enabled the duo to forge such a strong friendship over the years.

“We call a spade a spade. If you like it, fine. If you don’t, we don’t care. But we’re going to tell the way it is,” Foyt said. “Tony shoots from his hip like I do. You never know what he’s going to do tomorrow, you never know what I’m going to do.

”A lot of people [say] ‘We can’t figure you out Foyt.’ I’m quite sure that’s what they say about Tony. I think that’s one reason we’ve been great friends and why we get along so good.”

It was lost on no one that Stewart chose beloved Indianapolis Motor Speedway to reveal his cars for next season. He grew up in Columbus and traveled to Indy with his father as a child, dreaming of someday winning the 500.

With his car announcement completed and sponsors lined up for his new team, Stewart was able to enjoy Friday at the track. He was the very last driver to sign into the garage, making it just two minutes before the first practice session began.

He then ducked into the NASCAR hauler for a brief conversation with president Mike Helton before finally making his way to his car to start the session.

“A kid in a candy store right now, literally that’s how I feel,” Stewart said. “Once we got the first win in 2005 and being able to win a second one last year. It’s so much pressure off coming into this weekend.”

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