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Stewart and Foyt team up for Daytona

"Tony & A.J." isn't a reality television show on the Speed Channel. But it sure could be. All you have to do is have a couple of cameras follow around Tony Stewart and his buddy/hero A.J. Foyt.

Here's an opening scene:

It is Thursday's first Daytona 500 qualifying race. Stewart starts sixth and finishes second in his red-and-black Chevrolet with a No. 14 on the side in honor of Foyt. Foyt is on Stewart's pit box watching him speed his way around the high-banked tri-oval that is Daytona International Speedway.

Foyt has been given a radio headset and he listens in to Stewart's communications. There's a button to push to talk, but it doesn't work -- by design.

"All you have to do is drive for him once and listen to him on it and you realize why," Stewart said with a laugh during a joint news conference with Foyt Friday afternoon. "He demands performance out there, if he doesn't think you're in right spot at the right time, he's going to tell you about it. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I had enough stuff to think about."

"I didn't even try [to talk] -- I was listening pretty close," said Foyt, before delivering one of many regular jabs between the two: "He wasn't cryin' for a change."

The two characters sat side-by-side in what could have been a TV show pilot.

Stewart talked about what first attracted him to Foyt -- it was when he started whacking away at his No. 14 during the 1981 Indianapolis 500.

"There wasn't another driver out there in that era and definitely not a driver in this era in Indy Car racing that would do what he did," said the two-time Sprint Cup champion.

Stewart drove for Foyt a few times in the Silver Crown series, and the two forged a friendship that goes back so far neither of them remember the first time they met.

Stewart races the wheels off anything he drives, just like Foyt, and does things his own way, just like Foyt.

"Somewhere down the line, some genes must have crossed," Foyt said.

It seems quite clear that what has made these two a pair is that they are very much individuals: they do what they want, and they definitely say what they want.

"What I see in Tony is he calls a spade a spade and says it like it is," said Foyt. "I think that is kind of what made [Stewart] what he is today, because I think so many people sugar-coat so damn much stuff and don't really tell the fans the truth. Every time I've ever said something good or bad I meant everything and really believed it.

"That is one thing I really respect Tony for compared to a lot of the drivers over here -- they sugar-coat it. I guess he's -- excuse my French -- been known to be an [expletive]."

"Don't worry," said a smiling Stewart. "That's not the first time I've heard him call me that."

The 74-year-old Foyt, the only driver to win the Daytona 500, the Indy 500 and the 24-hour races at Daytona and Le Mans, is today one-part racing legend, one-part curmudgeon -- and about 30 or 40 years down the line you imagine Stewart will have a similar viscosity.

Foyt accepted the invitation to join the 37-year-old Stewart this week not only because he's racing the No. 14, but the way he's doing it. You can't get much more fearless or audacious in today's Sprint Cup series than taking on the task of being a driver-owner, a role that has died off as the sport has gotten more complicated and more expensive.

"Where he has the advantage over a lot of owners is he's in the driver's seat and that makes the biggest difference," said Foyt. "He's surrounded himself with a lot of very talented people. That's where Tony's been a lot smarter than a lot of guys that actually own the cars. With him in the driver's seat he knows what he wants and he's got some great mechanics behind him. I think you're going to see a win-win operation. I know it's hard, but you're going to see it."

"It's been a huge honor to have A.J. with us," said Stewart. "We've had a great friendship and known each other a long time -- nobody gives me a harder time than this man, but it's all in fun. This is obviously a huge year for us, starting this new team, and having A.J. here to kick it off with us is a highlight for sure."

Foyt will be back on the pit box for Sunday's 500. And judging from listening to the two on Friday, the button on Foyt's headset still won't work.

Review Keith McShea's blogs and chats on the Sports, Ink blog at www.buffalonews.com/blogs.

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com

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