DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Tony Stewart likes to say he and longtime hero A.J. Foyt are like twin brothers born nearly 40 years apart.
Foyt, long retired from driving but still a car owner in the IRL's IndyCar Series, is spending a lot of time on Stewart's pit box at Daytona International Speedway after being invited here to watch the NASCAR star debut a Chevrolet bearing the No. 14 that Foyt made famous.
But these two hard-driving, temperamental men share a lot more than just a car number.
Stewart's first memory of Foyt is watching him hammer on the engine of a balky IndyCar in the pits at the Indianapolis 500 in the early 90s.
Foyt took a few whacks, then climbed back into the cockpit and roared away.
"I was amazed," Stewart said Friday while seated next to Foyt. "After I hit it that hard with a hammer, I wouldn't have got in and drove it."
But that's exactly the kind of fiery, win-at-all-costs mentality that Foyt saw in Stewart when their friendship began a few years later.
"He calls a spade a spade and kind of calls it like it is," Foyt said, glancing at Stewart. "That's what made A.J. what he is today. Good or bad, I meant everything and I really believed it. Today, they sugarcoat it. He doesn't."
Both have been known to let their tempers get the best of them at times, on and off the track. They also have similar physical characteristics — a bit on the beefy side.
"Somewhere down the line some genes must have crossed," Foyt said.
The similarities don't end there.
Both have shown their talent and versatility, winning races and championships in a variety of series, from IndyCars to sprint cars to stock cars and more.
Foyt distinguished himself as a successful owner/driver, a role Stewart took on several years ago with a short-track team. Stewart expanded his ownership duties to NASCAR this year, partnering with businessman Gene Haas in Stewart-Haas Racing.
One thing the longtime friends don't share, though, is a victory in the Daytona 500.
Foyt won NASCAR's biggest race in 1972, part of a resume that includes four Indy 500 wins and victories in both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Daytona 24 hours.
Since making the tough decision in the late 90s to leave open-wheel racing, which was what attracted him to the sport in the beginning, Stewart has become one of NASCAR's biggest stars.
The two-time Cup champion has won races at Daytona. Just not the most important one.
Stewart has come close, finishing second in the 2004 Daytona 500 and third last February.
"Yeah, it's a little frustrating because I want to win so badly," Stewart said last week. "But I want to win every time I race, so that's nothing new. If I don't win the Daytona 500 in my career, I'm not going to sit around crying.
"But it would be something that would mean a lot to me if it happens."
Despite having only the few months since the end of last season to concentrate on getting his new team ready for 2009, Stewart already has shown he will be competitive this year.
He finished third in the exhibition Budweiser Shootout last Saturday and was second in his 150-mile qualifying race Thursday. Teammate Ryan Newman hasn't been as fortunate, running into problems with an engine failure in practice and crashing in his 150.
"I didn't come here saying, 'We're going to struggle' or 'We've got a shot to win every race every time."' Stewart said. "It was more taking a step back and saying, 'Let's just see what happens.'
"But I have been pleasantly surprised. I've been obviously very ecstatic that we've run the way we have. Ryan's car obviously was good in qualifying. We qualified well. We've had two good races now this week. It's been an awesome, awesome week for the organization."
Stewart credits the employees from Haas CNC Racing who stayed on, along with the ones he hired for putting him in a competitive situation so quickly.
"It makes me think back to Christmas Eve," he said. "We had to kick guys out of the shop at 1 in the afternoon to spend time with their families. They wanted to stay and work on race cars."
And the driver of the No. 14 has been pretty good, too. Foyt gave him an A-minus for Thursday's qualifier.
Somebody asked Foyt where Stewart lost points?
"He finished second," Foyt said.