A Load Off

As Tony Stewart stretched out on the crash wall last week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you could just imagine what was going through his mind.

After nine years of acting like Sisyphus, pushing the boulder of expectation up and down Georgetown Road, he'd finally gotten a two-ton load off his mind. He'd won a race at Indianapolis.

It's not like he's had much time to enjoy such a watershed victory. He had a couple of fan picnics on Monday in Iowa, then watched his sprint car driver, Danny Lasoski, win a race at Oskaloosa that night.

On Tuesday, he raced a non-winged sprint car, and then on Wednesday, the annual Knoxville Nationals got started. On Thursday, it was off to upstate New York for the Sirius Satellite at The Glen, where he's the defending champion.

There's no taking it easy until after the race on Sunday, when he can fly home to Indiana and reflect on the past couple of weeks. He's racing all three series here at the Glen this weekend: Rolex Grand American sports cars on Friday, the Old Spice No. 33 on Saturday in the Zippo 200 for Busch cars and the feature race on Sunday.

Through it all, he's been as happy and relaxed as someone in his position could hope to be.

Winner of four of the last six NEXTEL Cup events, Stewart has the point lead, a ton of momentum and a history of being bad-ass fast in the second half of the season, when tracks get slick and greasy and the car starts to slide around like a Floridian on ice.

Forget all that for a minute, and just remember what winning at Indianapolis means to a Hoosier native. It's like playing at Madison Square Garden is for a New Yorker, or stepping onto Soldier Field for someone born and raised in Chicago.

It means a little more than that to win at Indianapolis, at least for Stewart. The old girl had taken some cheap shots at him in the past, exacting a price for the love that Stewart has for the place. An engine blew not 400 yards after he took the lead in the Indy 500 one year, and he lost a Brickyard 400 on a strategy call after dominating all day.

Indy's done that to a lot of drivers, including the entire Andretti family, ever since Carl Fisher carved the place out of Indiana farmland in 1909. Last Sunday, he finally got the combination right, and he's still celebrating.

"I wish I could keep living this feeling for a year or two," he said at the Glen. "It's pretty neat. It'll probably really sink in once I get home."

He once said he'd trade his series championship for a victory at the Brickyard. Now, he might be able to keep them both. If the roll he's on becomes an extended one, he'll have more than one to give.

For now, though, it's business as usual, driving race cars as fast as he knows how. At least he doesn't have to drag the big rock along with him anymore.

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