INDIANAPOLIS -- Imagine driving from Los Angeles to Denver in one day. In heavy traffic, with other drivers tailgating and zigzagging every which way. In a car with no air conditioning or power steering. And no bathroom breaks.
Welcome to Tony Stewart's world.
Stewart, a former Indy Racing League champion who's now NASCAR's hottest rookie, will try to become the first driver to complete the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in Concord, N.C., on the same day.
That's 1,100 miles in under 12 hours, 600 laps and a mind-numbing 2,400 left turns.
"I like staying busy and I like being in race cars," he said. "The more I'm in a race car, the happier I am."
The 28-year-old driver switched to NASCAR's Winston Cup circuit after three years of racing full time in the IRL, and has done better than anyone expected. He's had five top-10 finishes in his first 12 races, won one poll and is seventh in the point standings.
But there's something about Indy that keeps drawing him back. He's always had a fast car in the 500 -- he started on the pole as a rookie in 1996 and has led a total of 109 laps -- but he has been knocked out early by mechanical problems.
It's his hometown track, too. He grew up 45 miles south in Columbus, Ind.
"To have the opportunity to run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and try to win the Indianapolis 500, I wasn't going to pass that up," he said. "If we don't win it this year, I guarantee we'll probably do it again next year. I'm not giving up until we win the Indianapolis 500."
A year or two of this might make him reconsider, though.
First, there's the schedule. He's flown between Indianapolis and Concord so much the past two weeks he's practically on a first-name basis with the air traffic controllers. He's missed practices at each track, and didn't even have enough time to take photos with his crew after qualifying at Indy.
Today, he'll start from the eighth row in the Indy 500 and pray for clear skies and a clean race because he's out of there at 4:30 p.m. EDT no matter what.
A helicopter will take him to the Indianapolis airport where The Home Depot, his sponsor, will have its private jet waiting for the 50-minute flight to North Carolina.
He'll get intravenous fluids on the plane and maybe squeeze in a little nap. When he touches down in Charlotte, N.C., he'll be whisked to another helicopter for the ride to Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Then he'll jump into his stock car and start in the 27th spot for another five hours of driving.
"If anybody's capable of doing it and has the endurance to do it, it's Tony," said Andy Card, one of the co-owners of Stewart's IRL team.
Only two other drivers have attempted the double. John Andretti was the first in 1994, but he crashed in the Coca-Cola 600 and didn't finish the race. Robby Gordon's attempt in 1997 was rained out in Indianapolis.
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