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Friday, April 20

Ganassi eying Cup star Stewart?
By Robin Miller
Special to

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opens for business in three weeks but the defending champs are still scrambling to come up with a driver lineup. And NASCAR star Tony Stewart might even figure in this equation.

Chip Ganassi, apparently uncomfortable with his rookie tandem of Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian, has asked CART veterans Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy to take their place and drive for him in next month's 85th Indy 500.

Tracy wanted to go but was told no by his CART sponsor, KOOL, while Vasser is game but must get the blessing of his car owner, Pat Patrick.

"Chip approached me at Long Beach and wondered if I'd be interested in running Indy with Jimmy as my teammate," said Tracy, who hasn't competed at Indy since the Indy Racing League/CART split in 1996.

"I'd like to do it so I asked Barry (Green, his car owner) and he had no problem but the president of KOOL wasn't interested in me being with another team in a different car. They've invested a lot of money in promoting me and they said if I go to Indy they want to be the one to bring me."

Vasser competed at the speedway a year ago and was running second in the latter stages behind teammate and eventual winner Juan Montoya. The final year of his contract was bought out by Ganassi, who hired the two Formula 3000 standouts.

"You know me, I always want to go to Indianapolis and I've got a couple of interested parties," said the 1996 CART champion. "But I can't do anything with the consent of Pat (Patrick) and Jim (McGee).

"Something is going to have to happen pretty quick because it's getting late."

Patrick couldn't be reached for comment and McGee said that Vasser couldn't go to Indy unless it made "business sense" for Patrick Racing.

"Unless Ganassi comes up with a lot of money, it probably wouldn't make a lot of sense for us," said McGee, whose driver currently has no sponsor in the FedEx Championship.

Stewart, whose contract with Joe Gibbs used to have a provision that allowed him to compete in the Indianapolis 500, hasn't driven at Indy since 1999. That May he finished ninth, then flew to Charlotte for his Winston Cup duties. Afterward, he was so physically exhausted he vowed never to attempt that doubleheader again.

However, recently he told some IRL officials he wanted to run Indy again if he could find a good team. Ganassi, competing in his rookie year of NASCAR, was in Talladega on Friday and expected to pursue the '97 IRL champion.

Stewart didn't return phone calls Thursday or Friday and neither did Ganassi, who has one remaining test day at Indy next week. At this time, there is no confirmation that Ganassi has approached Stewart about driving for him at Indianapolis.

It's a delicate situation for Junqueira and Minassian, who both completed their rookie orientation at Indy last weekend. They have never competed on an oval but will have Texas, Nazareth and Japan under their belt by the time Indy (May 27) gets the green flag.

Montoya, who dominated last year's race and led 170 of the 200 laps, had a year of oval experience in 1999, when he captured the CART crown as a rookie, before coming to the speedway.

It's still possible that Ganassi go could with his two rookies if Vasser and Stewart can't be signed up.

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