DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 8, 2003) - Reigning NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Tony Stewart has declined an invitation to compete in the 2003 IROC Series. The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing cited his commitment to successfully defend his Winston Cup title and the added responsibilities that are associated with being the sport's champion as reasons for his absence in this year's IROC Series.
"The Signore family has built a great series in IROC, and I know firsthand because I've been fortunate enough to have competed in IROC four times," said Stewart. "But with all that goes on during any given Winston Cup weekend, the time to focus on the main job - driving the Home Depot Chevrolet - becomes more and more valuable as our sport continues to grow.
"I've never been a Winston Cup champion before and I want to do it right - for my team, for my fellow competitors and for my fans. When you win one championship it makes you want to win a second that much more. That's our goal for 2003, and my decision to not race in IROC this year should be a pretty good indication of how much I want to repeat as Winston Cup champion."
Stewart's first IROC invitation came in 1998 as a representative of the Indy Racing League for winning the series championship in 1997. After winning the 1999 Rookie of the Year title during his inaugural Winston Cup campaign, Stewart returned to IROC in 2000. His third IROC appearance came in 2001, as Stewart substituted for CART driver Gil de Ferran, whose injuries from a pre-season testing accident prohibited him from competing in any of the four races. Stewart won his first IROC event in the season's third race at Michigan, helping him earn the runner-up spot in the IROC championship to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte. In Stewart's fourth IROC appearance last season, he won the series' first race at Daytona.
"While I may not be a competitor in IROC this year, I'll be a very interested spectator as my World of Outlaws driver - Danny Lasoski - enjoys his second year of IROC," added Stewart. "Last year was the first time he had ever driven a race car on a surface other than dirt. He went to every practice session and probably logged more miles than anyone else. He learned a lot last year and he's coming into this year with a lot of confidence. He should be fun to watch."