DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 4, 2002) - When he was 15-years-old, Tony Stewart turned laps on the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway in a go-kart. Now at age 30, Stewart is back on the 3.56-mile road course turning laps in a prototype in preparation for the 40th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"We didn't run the chicane on the back straight, but it was pretty much the same course we run now," Stewart said during a break in testing on Friday. "It's been a long time, gosh, 15 years ago. A lot has happened in those 15 years. But it's neat to come back to run the same track that I ran in go-karts."
Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, is looking forward to starting his Speedweeks 2002 activities a week earlier with the Feb. 2-3 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"It's good to do something different," Stewart said. "I've always driven so many different race cars in my career, it's nice to add this to the list.
"From the time I was a little kid, when you watch this stuff on TV, I'd say, 'Hey, I want to do that someday.' Same thing I did with Indy-cars and Winston Cup cars -- I said, 'Hey, I want to do that someday.' "
Stewart will be driving with the Crawford Race Cars' factory team. He'll race a V10 Judd-powered Crawford in the SportsRacing Prototype class with co-drivers Johnny Mowlem and Jan Lammers.
"It's just something fun to do," Stewart said. "Everybody knows that if I get an off weekend and can go race somewhere, I'll go race. It's a lot of fun to be able to come down here a little bit early and get in a race car again."
Stewart is enjoying the sportscar atmosphere. He's not worrying about pursuing his first Winston Cup championship or trying to win his first Daytona 500. He's enjoying the time in the garage with some of the greatest sportscar drivers in the world.
"The guys in the prototypes * look at the drivers in these cars," Stewart said. "You've got James Weaver just down the way. And Elliott Forbes-Robinson, Dorsey Schroeder. You look at the guys driving the prototypes, and they're world-class drivers. Being in cars comparable to them is a good honor, and you know you're with some guys who know what they're doing. And those are the guys who have been coming down trying to help."
Tickets for the 40th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona can be purchased online at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling the Speedway ticket office at (386) 253-7223.
Top 5 Rolex Sports Car Series Speeds Friday, Jan. 4
1. No. 27 Doran Lista Racing Judd Dallara, Fredy Lienhard, Didier Theys, Max Papis, 127.120 mph
2. No. 36 Jim Matthews Racing Ford Riley & Scott, Jim Matthews, Scott Sharp, Robby Gordon, Guy Smith, 125.181
3. No. 16 Dyson Racing Ford Riley & Scott, James Weaver, Butch Leitzinger, Oliver Gavin, 125.054
4. No. 37 Intersport Racing Judd Lola, Clint Field, Jon Field, Joe Field, Rick Sutherland, 124.700
5. No. 38 Champion Racing Porsche Lola, Hurley Haywood, Sascha Maassen, Andy Wallace, Lucas Luhr, 124.348
8. No. 2 Judd Crawford, Jan Lammers, Tony Stewart, Johnny Mowlem, 122.190
29. No. 90 Flis Motorsports Corvette, Dave Liniger, Rick Carelli, Metcalf, Kevin Harvick, 110.466
31. No. 43 Orbit Racing GT3 R, Leo Hindery, Kyle Petty, Peter Baron, 110.229