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Stewart declines Penske Indy 500 offer

6 December 2012

Tony Stewart has finally broken his silence and responded to the offer from team owner Roger Penske to supply him with car and crew if he wished to make a competitive performance in next year's Indianapolis 500 race.

"As much as I would like to do it, we just don't have the time to do it," Stewart said on Wednesday - although he also kept his options open for a possible return to the Indy 500 at a later date.

Penske had made his offer to Stewart at the weekend during his victory speech as the winning car owner in this year's Sprint Cup championship, at the post-season NASCAR celebration banquet in Las Vegas.

"How about doing the double at Indy this year? Are you available?" he'd asked Stewart, referring to the idea that Stewart could do the Indy 500 back-to-back with NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 race later in the same day. The last driver to do both races on the same day was Robby Gordon in 2004; Gordon will compete next month in the Dakar Rally.

“If he wants to do the double, I'd put him in it,” Penske told the media afterwards, confirming it had been a serious offer to Stewart and not just a quip at a banter-filled event. "He and I have talked about it. I guess I gave him an official [offer] tonight!"

Stewart - 1997 Indy Racing League champion as well as a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion - initially kept silent about the offer, but on Wednesday he finally responded while addressing the International Motorsports Industry Show being held in Indianapolis.

"It was a very humbling comment and offer that he made, for sure," Stewart told the crowd. "I'm very humbled by the fact that he offered it to us. It's a great opportunity, but it's very hard when you're running three Cup teams right now."

As well as his own car, Stewart-Haas Racing fields Ryan Newman as a driver and next year the line-up will be swelled by the addition of former IndyCar star Danica Patrick running her first full-time Cup season.

"The obligations that we have making sure that we're doing the right things, we have a lot of people that depend on us," he said. "It's kind of like being at Thanksgiving dinner. My plate is finally full. I don't know if I can add anymore to what I have right now."

Stewart went on to explain that the standard of racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series was such that it simply wasn't realistic for someone such as himself to just show up and expect to have a realistic chance of winning.

"The IRL is so competitive now, you're not going to just show up like drivers used to do in the past and be competitive," he said. "These guys don't leave anything on the table there. You're not going to stroll into the Indy 500 with these guys who race every week and be as competitive as they are.

"It was a very humbling comment and offer that he made, for sure," Stewart added regarding Penske, who has seen his team's cars win the Indy 500 15 times to date. "I'm not going to do it this year, but there's nothing saying that down the road that I may not take him up on that same offer," he added.

The crowd reportedly booed the announcement from Stewart that he wouldn't compete in 2013. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway had even set up a 'Smoke2Indy' petition on its website to try and persuade Stewart to go for the double.

Stewart added that he followed the IndyCar competition closely. "I'm watching everything that's going on. It's definitely something we pay attention to," he said.

Supporting that was an enthusiastic tweet from Brad Keselowski, the Penske Racing driver who has followed Stewart as NASCAR Sprint Cup champion after the climax of the 2012 season.

"If Ford had an IndyCar presence, I hope Roger would talk to me," Keselowski posted on the social media site. "Who wouldn't want to do it?"