Tony Stewart to join forces with Sam Schmidt at Indy 500

Tony Stewart and IndyCar team owner Sam Schmidt of Henderson will be teaming at the Indianapolis 500 in May.

No, it’s not what you think. At least not at this point.

The Tony Stewart Foundation will sponsor a third Schmidt entry at this year’s auto racing crown jewel. Stewart says he won’t be driving.

But a driver has not been announced for the No. 77 Team One Cure Honda, a project to benefit the Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center. That has fueled speculation the 45-year-old three-time Cup Series champion could wind up behind the wheel at the famous Brickyard a year after retiring from NASCAR.

Stewart, who last raced in the Indy 500 in 2001 and finished fifth in 1997, will compete in myriad dirt track events in 2017, but has repeatedly denied he is interested in returning to the 500 as a driver.

Still …

A.J. Foyt, who made his name at Indianapolis, remains Stewart’s hero. Auto racing people will tell you keeping the door open for a comeback is something Foyt would have done, were he in Stewart’s position. Foyt raced in the Indianapolis 500 through 1992, when he was 57, and returned the next year to run ceremonial laps before announcing he was retiring for good.

Foyt flew into Las Vegas to surprise Stewart, who drove the No. 14 car in NASCAR to honor the legendary four-time Indy winner, during NASCAR Awards week in December.

“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 statement announcing the collaboration with Schmidt.

“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.”

Schmidt’s top driver, Canadian James Hinchcliffe, started last year’s 100th running of the 500 from the pole position. Schmidt’s other full-time driver is Mikhail Aleshin of Russia.

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