INDIANAPOLIS – The idea crept into Tony Stewart’s mind before the checkered flag even fell Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He wasn’t going to win in his final NASCAR start at the Brickyard, but the two-time winner of the event wanted one more lap around the 2.5-mile track.
And he also wanted a partner.
So as Stewart took one last lap around Indy in his No. 14 Chevrolet, he had Gordon, driving the No. 88 Chevy in place of Dale Earnhardt Jr., by his side.
“That was cool,” Stewart said. “I knew when we got the checkered, I just didn’t want to come in quite yet. I wanted to run one more lap. Jeff was around us. Before that, last green run, I told my spotter to get his spotter and say after this thing is over, we need to go a lap around together.
“It most likely is the last time we both get a chance to do that, so I couldn’t think of a better guy to share that final lap with.”
After the lap ended, Stewart and Gordon parked their cars in the shadow of the track’s famous pagoda and shared a warm embrace.
“That meant the world to me,” Gordon said. “Tony and I, our relationship has gone through a lot of obstacles over the years. But the last few years, I’ve gained so much respect and admiration for who he is as a person and as a race car driver.
“It means the world to be here today and be a part of this celebration.”
Stewart finished 11th in his final Indy start, two spots ahead of Gordon, who will interrupt his retirement again next week at Pocono Raceway as a substitute for Earnhardt.
It was fitting the day ended with the surefire future Hall of Famers together after it started with Gordon delivering a heartfelt tribute in the prerace drivers meeting.
“To see what he’s done, how tough he is as a competitor,” Gordon said. “I’ve always known what a great guy and a great race car driver he is, but now I know more about who Tony Stewart really is. I’m so proud I was able to be here and race with him in his final race.”