Ganassi recalls how close Stewart came to winning 2001 Indy 500 with his team

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Tony Stewart is 400 miles away today from officially hanging up his helmet on a phenomenal racing career. Verizon IndyCar Series and NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi took a moment Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway to reflect on their one race together in the 2001 Indianapolis 500.

The 1997 Indy car champion made his name in open-wheel racing before moving on to cut his teeth in NASCAR's top series full-time in 1999, but for a few years Stewart split time between the two series during the month of May in an attempt to capture the illusive Borg-Warner Trophy.

The 2001 season was the second time that the native Hoosier attempted the “double,” which included the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway immediately after the historic race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Tony StewartStewart qualified the No. 33 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Oldsmobile seventh in a race hit multiple times by rain. However, that didn’t keep the 1996 Indy 500 pole sitter away from battling with the likes of Helio Castroneves, Michael Andretti and Gil de Ferran for the race lead, having found the front for 13 laps before a late pit stop error relegated him to a sixth-place finish.

Stewart followed his performance at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a third-place finish at Charlotte later that night – becoming the first driver to complete the full distance of both races on the same day.

Ganassi, the 11-time Indy car champion team owner, admitted that he would have liked to have done more with the three-time NASCAR champion and cited the mistake that took them out of the race.

“You know you get involved in this business and you meet people along the way and I’m just sorry we didn’t work harder to do more with him as a driver with our team,” Ganassi said.

“Obviously the opportunity didn’t present itself from time to time, but he did an outstanding job and I think had a real shot at the Indy 500 that day.  We just had a bad pit stop and couldn’t get him out of the pits and that was the end of the day.”

Ganassi, whose teams share four wins in the famed Indy 500, said the intrigue built by the 49-time Cup race winner doing two races totaling 1,100 miles added to the memory.

“(He) did a great job for us and it was kind of before doing the double had all the excitement or the interest from everybody that it has today,” Ganassi continued. “I think it was 2001 when we did that and I’m just sorry we didn’t work harder to have him around more.

“It is 2001 and it just seems like it was a couple of years ago.”

Tony Stewart

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