By Brant James, USA TODAY Sports February 7, 2017 8:35 am ET
Tony Stewart will return to the Indianapolis 500 this May, but not in the manner many fans of the three-time NASCAR champion hope.
The Tony Stewart Foundation will sponsor an IndyCar in the May 28 race under the auspices of TEAM ONE CURE, a project to benefit the Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center.
The program will adorn a No. 77 Honda to be fielded by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. A driver has not been announced, but the news was certain to re-fire fanciful speculation that the 45-year-old Stewart, who just retired after 18 seasons at NASCAR’s top level could race the car. He has vociferously denied any further ambitions to drive in the Indianapolis 500, though, making this bid most likely an outlet for his charitable efforts to benefit children and animals.
Mike Arning, a spokesman for the Stewart-Haas Racing NASCAR team Stewart co-owns, told USA TODAY Sports that Stewart is not considering competing.
STEWART WILL DRIVE IN LITTLE 500
Stewart posted a career-best finish of fifth in the Indianapolis 500 in 1997 and last raced there in 2001, ages ago in terms of generations of the car and the driver. Stewart has been beset by physical injuries in recent years, incurring broken bones in his legs and back in various racing endeavors. He missed 12 races in his final Cup season last year after suffering a broken back in a preseason off-roading incident. Still, he’s slated to race in more than 80 sprint car and Late Model events this season. IndyCar, though, will remain the realm of philanthropy.
“We learned that with the One Cure program, cancer treatment breakthroughs are happening through collaboration between scientists and doctors working with both people and pets,” Stewart said in a release.
“It perfectly fits with my foundation’s missions to help children and animals. Sam Schmidt represents the very best in an injured racer overcoming adversity, plus we share the passion to win at IMS.”
SPM also fields cars for 2016 Indianapolis 500 pole-winner James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin.