Tony Stewart Says He Was Approached by McLaren for Indianapolis 500 Drive
Surely he isn't just blowing 'Smoke,' right?
Since August, beloved Hoosier Tony Stewart has been openly considering running the Indianapolis 500. It would be his first time doing so since 2001, but according to him, some of the sport's biggest names—Rahal, Ganassi, and especially Penske—have offered him a seat to compete in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. These rumors have swirled for months with the same trio of team owners, now also including Michael Andretti, being thrown around from interview to interview. However, in a recent sit-down with NBC Sports' Kyle Petty, Stewart explained that he'd been approached by a particularly intriguing party: McLaren.
Stewart started his first Indy 500 on pole in 1996 and has a best career finish of P5 at the fabled race in the IRL era. Since his retirement from NASCAR Cup Series driving, "Smoke" has remained competitive in dirt sprint cars and continues to manage operations at Stewart-Haas Racing. This, along with his track record, makes him an attractive option for teams seeking success along with a bit of publicity; enter McLaren CEO Zak Brown.
"I've had offers from Rahal and Zak Brown from the McLaren side, Michael Andretti, Penske. I think Ganassi would still want me in a car if I wanted to go—he hasn't said anything officially though," Stewart laughed. "But I've got really good offers to go and run Indy next year."
By now, the back-and-forth saga of McLaren throwing together an IndyCar program is a bit stale. The historic Formula 1 constructor was long believed to be working on a full-fledged, potentially two-car entry with star driver Fernando Alonso in tow; however, that's all washed by the wayside now and the team announced it must first focus on recentering its F1 efforts. Even then, Alonso was thought to be onboard the IndyCar hype train after testing with Andretti at Barber just a couple months ago. The answer to that speculation was a conclusive "no," and the Spaniard will instead drive primarily with Toyota in the World Endurance Championship.
That doesn't rule out an Indianapolis 500 venture, though, as IndyCar CEO Mark Miles recently insisted the chance of McLaren visiting the speedway next May is looking hopeful. While Alonso is an expected shoo-in to return to the hallowed Brickyard, the concept that McLaren was also open to another driver for a one-race deal is all the more intriguing. But don't look for Stewart to jump on board in 2019.
“Not this coming year,” Stewart previously told NBC Sports of when he'd be willing to give Indy another chance. “I did what I normally do, I let my mouth open before I thought about what I was saying and mentioned that I was open to the possibility again, and I realistically am."
“The reason I wouldn’t do it next year, I’m not doing it to just do it. I want to do it to try to win the race. If you’re really going to do that, the IndyCar Series is so competitive right now, and the drivers and teams so tough, you’re not going to just stroll in here like they used to do in the ’70s and ’80s and do a good job. [...]”