Drivers On Stewart’s Moonlighting: Bully For Him
On Friday morning at Watkins Glen International, Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent a few minutes talking about that day in 2004 when he found himself stuck in a burning Corvette that he had crashed during a morning warmup session for a sports car race at the Sonoma road course.
He spent those minutes talking about it because he was asked about the wreck and resulting broken leg which Tony Stewart suffered last Monday while moonlighting in a winged 360 sprint car.
“It just sort of put things in perspective for me,” Earnhardt, who suffered severe burns in the wreck, said.
That perspective dictated that Earnhardt put a complete stop to racing in sports car events. Earnhardt said Friday that he doesn’t think Stewart’s wreck and injuries – which will keep him out of a car for several weeks and likely cost him a shot at a fourth Sprint Cup championship – will produce a similar perspective for Stewart.
The reasons: Love and passion.
“If I enjoyed road racing as much as Tony enjoys dirt cars then you wouldn’t give it up and I wouldn’t have,” Earnhardt said. “I would have gone back and done it more. Those were just really, I wouldn’t compare what I was doing to what Tony was doing because his passion and love for that far exceeded what I felt about racing sports cars.”
Stewart’s wreck came during the feature race at Southern Iowa Speedway. He was leading the 30-lap race when with five laps to go when a lapped car spun and Stewart was collected. He has undergone two surgeries on his broken tibia and fibula bones this week.
A timetable for his return to his Sprint Cup seat has not been determined.
Stewart is 11th in points with only five races left in the regular season. Only the top 10 and two wild card drivers with the most wins between 11th and 20th make the Chase.
Sobering stuff. But few in the garages on Friday at The Glen are expecting Stewart to give up his beloved extracurriculars in the wake of the situaton.
“I just really liked the relationship that I had with Corvette and Chevrolet,” Earnhardt said, “but I was really never a sports car fan per se. That was not very hard for me to shut that out of my life and do without it. Just going through the process of healing and knowing burns take so long to heal and knowing how much of a pain in the butt that was, it was easy for me to not want to do that anymore.”
Stewart, Earnhardt predicted, will be back in sprint cars again.
“I don’t think it will,” Eanhardt said of Stewart being affected by the wreck and injuries. “I think it makes you appreciate what you do anytime something like this where you are put on standby or taken away from you, I think you appreciate it more, if that’s possible. I think when you come back you are even more tenacious and fired up than you were before. You just take it for granted that you just get to do it every weekend and once that’s gone just for a little bit even, you really sort of reset your priorities and I think you come back stronger and more determined.”
Cup driver Kurt Busch has dabbled with other forms of racing. He’s driven sports cars and Pro Stock cars in the NHRA. He said he understands the way Stewart thinks and also expects Stewart to get back to moonlighting at some point.
“There’s always that risk,” Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, said. “We’re always on that edge when you’re racing. No matter if it’s a Cup car or a Sprint car. And when you’re out there, like Tony is, leading your crusade for short track racing, he was out there continuing to do what he has been doing all along. He does it for many reasons. One is to keep himself busy and it’s his outlet to enjoy life at a level that’s fun for him. And I’ve been through the ups and the downs of finding fun in racing versus doing the daily/weekly grind.
“And for him, he’s been leading a crusade for short track racing. We all commend him for doing such. You look at it, he brought the truck series to El Dora and that was the feel-good story a few weeks ago. So for Tony, that’s just the next step of what he wants to do for short track racing. This won’t set him back from doing that anymore. He’ll get back in the car, he’ll keep running those Sprint Car races and he’ll be back in the Cup car. It’s just a bigger speed bump than we all expected.”
Jeff Gordon, a three-time Sprint Cup champion and a former short track driver himself, voiced the opinion which many “real racers” have been voicing all week long: Bully for Stewart.
“I applaud him and definitely support him in that effort,” Gordon said.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment