Tony Stewart on track at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. (Craig James/Allsport Photo)

Looking Back: Stewart’s Double Duty Success

With Memorial Day weekend upon us, race fans rejoice as three of the biggest events in motorsports commence on Sunday.

Featuring the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600, it’s a day in racing like no other.

Racers in their respective disciplines understand the spectacle that each event demands, but tackling two of the three in a single day is one of the rarest tricks in motorsports.

John Andretti was the first to run the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day when he did it in 1994. He finished 10th at Indy and 36th after hopping a flight to North Carolina.

Tony Stewart entered the fray in 1999 and became the second driver to run both events in the same day. Stewart is the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles when he finished sixth at Indy and third in Charlotte in 2001.

Robby Gordon did the double four times (2000, ’02, ’03 and ’04). Kurt Busch was the most recent driver to attempt to run both races on the same day when he finished sixth at Indianapolis and 40th at Charlotte in 2014. A blown engine in the Coke 600 derailed Busch’s chance of finishing the 1,100 miles.

Having won the Indy Racing League championship in 1996, Stewart’s first attempt at “The Double” came as a NASCAR Cup Series rookie in 1999.

Piloting the No. 22 for Tri-Star Motorsports at the 500, Stewart finished ninth, four laps down. 

At the drop of the checkered flag at the 2.5-mile oval, Stewart had to bolt from Indy to Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in time for his full-time gig — racing the No. 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing. 

Though it wasn’t smooth sailing for ‘Smoke,’ who encountered trouble early on in the 600-mile race. 

“The first year we were so worried about dehydration that I drank and I drank and I drank and I drank. I just never ate enough solid, nutritious food the night before,” Stewart recalled. “And the day of the race, I wasn’t hungry because I was drinking so much to try to ensure that I was being hydrated. 

“I got my body so out of whack that, by the time the 600 was done in Charlotte, I’d had enough. I was hungry 50 laps into the race. It’s a 400-lap race in the 600, so 50 laps into it, it was still daylight. 

“It was early in the race and there wasn’t a drive-thru in sight. It made for a long day.”

Stewart prior to competing during the 2001 Indianapolis 500. (Robert Laberge/Allsport Photo)

During a pit stop, Stewart’s team gave their driver much-needed nutrition to help with his condition inside the race car.

To his dismay, it did the exact opposite. 

“We actually tried to get one of Bobby Labonte’s PowerBars – try to get something in me to tide me over until the race was over,” Stewart said. “It didn’t work. I got two bites of it and two bites did not make it the next 350 laps around Charlotte.”

Though Stewart powered through NASCAR’s longest race, leading 13 laps and finishing fourth. 

While it was a successful first attempt, completing the 1,100-mile mark between the two events still eluded Stewart.

Completing The 1,100-Mile Mission

Two years later, Stewart reattempted the “Double,” with IndyCar Series powerhouse team Chip Ganassi Racing and his Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR operation. 

Stewart led 13 laps before rain halted the 500 momentarily, where he ran fifth. The rain delay at Indy was a hectic time for Stewart. Not only did he have a pending deadline of which to leave Indy to make the race in Charlotte, he was again suffering physical ailments.

“The one part of it that was pretty traumatic was the point where we actually were in the lead of the race at Indy and the rain delay came and then I got a cramp in my leg at the same time during the red flag,” Stewart said. 

“The hard part was knowing that we had a hard time to leave that was non-negotiable. It didn’t matter if I was leading by five laps, at a set time we had to leave, whether I was leading the Indy 500 or not.”

However, the race quickly restarted and Helio Castroneves went on to win his first of four Indy 500s, while Stewart finished sixth, on the lead lap.

Better prepared physically thanks to a personal nutritionist during the month of May, Stewart tackled the final leg of his 1,100-mile journey strong.

He improved his finish from 1999, where he wheeled his No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac to a third-place result after 600 miles, making Stewart the only driver to complete both races on the same day.

To this day, only four drivers have attempted the “Double,” with Stewart being the only driver to ever complete the entire distance. 

Next season, 2021 Cup Series champion Kyle Larson is scheduled to become the next driver to attempt the “Double,” racing for Arrow McLaren at Indy along with his full-time ride with Hendrick Motorsports in Charlotte.

“We’re still the only guy who’s completed all 1,100 miles of Double Duty, which is something I’m really proud of,” Stewart said. “I think the best two finishes we had was sixth in the 500 and third in the 600. It makes for a very, very long day. 

“When you’re done with the 600, after running Indy and the flight and helicopter rides and police escorts and all that during the day, you’re very, very content to lay your head on a pillow. And even when you do that, it still feels like it’s not stopped moving, yet.”