When it was all over, Tony Stewart was laid out on a stretcher, exhausted and dehydrated, and rushed away for medical attention.
But what he had accomplished, in the most grueling day's work that any race-car driver has likely endured, set him apart from all of his peers. Stewart posted a pair of top-10 finishes today in two of racing's most grueling events, coming home ninth in the Indianapolis 500 and fourth in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600.
It was an exhausting day behind the wheel, amounting to a 1,090-mile Sunday drive. And it took three planes, two helicopters, eight golf carts, four cars and a pair of police escorts to pull it off.
With only a catnap in between events -- a blissful bit of shut-eye on the jet that whisked him from Indianapolis to Charlotte -- Stewart charged from his last-place start to take the lead in the Coca-Cola 600 shortly after the midway point. Though both his car and stamina faded in the end, Stewart sent a message that he is versatile and talented, able to successfully transfer his skill at open-wheel cars to the heavier, hulking stock cars.
Stewart completed the first part of his racing double with a ninth-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, completing 196 laps of the 200-lap event.
However, as Stewart left the track for the second leg of his driving day, he was slightly upset. He spent several minutes in third place in the Indy race before two long pit stops near the midway point of the 500-mile race, costing him his position.
The longest stop was because Stewart's pit crew was trying to adjust his wicker, a small metal piece that fits on the spoiler at the back of the car to help stabilize it and ease its handling. "I think he was a little disappointed," said Andy Card, co-owner of Stewart's team. "We fought the car all day."
After the race, Stewart hurried to the team's motor home to take a quick shower. From there, he went to the infield medical center to be evaluated for dehydration.
Once cleared by doctors, he took a police escort to an awaiting helicopter at the track. The helicopter left at 3:09 p.m., heading to Indianapolis International Airport for a 3:30 p.m. flight to Charlotte.
"He was obviously a little bit tired, but we got a bunch of liquids in him," Card said. "I don't think he would feel as badly if he hadn't fallen back in the field."
The afternoon sun was setting as the capacity crowd of 170,000 filled the stands at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Track announcers broke in half an hour before the 6:15 p.m. race to inform the crowd that the helicopter carrying Stewart was two miles from the speedway. The chopper landed on a grassy area tucked behind the frontstretch. Stewart waved to the crowd as he climbed out and strode to a waiting four-wheeler, which took him to his race car.
Because he missed NASCAR's mandatory pre-race driver's meeting, Stewart had to start at the rear of the field. But he wasted little time in working his way through the pack. By Lap 60, he was running 10th. By the race's midpoint, crew members were feeding him Power Bars and Gatorade during pit stops. He took the lead on Lap 267, slipping under teammate Bobby Labonte, and put on a show thereafter, swapping the lead alternately with Labonte and Jeff Burton.
Horton reported from Indianapolis.
CAPTION: Tony Stewart steps out of helicopter that took him from Charlotte airport to Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. At left is his fiancee, Krista Dwyer.
CAPTION: Tony Stewart, in pits at Indianapolis 500, was attempting to become the first driver to finish both the Indy race and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.