- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 23, 2009

CONCORD, N.C. | Tony Stewart has team co-owner Gene Haas in town, teammate Ryan Newman on the pole and both of his World of Outlaws drivers racing at a nearby dirt track.

No doubt, Stewart has enough distractions to keep him from thinking about his favorite race, the Indy 500, or last year’s frustrating finish in the Coca-Cola 600.

At least for a bit.

“My dream of running Indy and winning Indy is still there,” said Stewart, who’s still looking for his first victory during Memorial Day weekend. “It’s never going away.”

Although the two-time NASCAR champion and former open-wheel star hopes to race at Indy again, he believes getting there will take a bigger commitment than he has time for these days.

“It’s a scenario where you can’t just show up and get in one of those things anymore and be good in them,” said Stewart, the 1997 Indy Racing League champion. “To really put together an effort to not just try to make the Indy 500 but try to win the Indy 500 you have to start the season with a team and run through the Indy 500 if you’re even going to have a shot at it.”

Stewart drove both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day in 2001, a grueling 1,100-mile odyssey that included a plane ride, intravenous fluids, an early spin and two top-10 finishes. He hasn’t entered the 500 since - it’s impossible to race both now because Indy’s start time has changed - and isn’t sure when it will happen again.

“Even if they switched [the 500 to Monday], I don’t know if it’s feasible to do it,” he said. “It’s not just the logistics of making the two races. It’s everything that leads into the preparation and testing and the time behind the wheel of getting acclimated to the cars again. That’s more important than just the sheer logistics of race day.”

Stewart would gladly settle for a win in the 600, NASCAR’s longest race and one of the sport’s crown jewels.

No one would be surprised to see him in Victory Lane either.

Stewart, second in the Sprint Cup standings, is coming off his first win as an owner-driver with Stewart-Haas Racing. He won last week’s All-Star race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in front of Haas, who was at the track for the first time since completing a 16-month federal prison term for tax fraud.

The founder of Haas Automation, a California-based machine tool builder, pleaded guilty to defrauding the government of more than $34 million in taxes. He spent 10 months in a federal corrections institution in Lompoc, Calif. - a stay he compared to military basic training - followed by six months of home confinement.

“It’s a lot like being stricken with cancer or being hit by drunk driver; your life changes,” Haas said Thursday, speaking publicly for the first time since his release. “What you try to do is put the pieces back together as best you can and move on and try to minimize the damage that happens in your life.”

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