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Stewart: Fight To Return Will Not Be Easy

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 3 2013

Tony Stewart met the press Tuesday in North Carolina.

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – An upbeat Tony Stewart said Tuesday he would return to the cockpit of his No. 14 Chevrolet for the Daytona 500, but admitted a tremendous amount of therapy lay ahead of him before he could resume his passion – driving a race car.

“If it [injury] had happened a month later, it would have got us in a really big bind for next year, so we would have missed not only this year but the beginning of next year, as well,” Stewart said. “I’ve really been very vague with the doctors about what’s going on and what’s happening, what’s going to happen a month down the road or three months down the road. The reason for that, I’ve tried to kind of to a certain degree protect myself from myself by not getting too far ahead and not trying to do something too early that I’m not supposed to do. I’m really trying to guard against that right now. A setback would really be bad.

“Everything is going according to schedule and may actually be a little bit ahead of schedule. If we get done early, we don’t have anything to gain by it. If we have a setback, we have a lot to lose by it. Every time the doctor says I’m going to see you in so many days, I ask what do you want me to do through that period and what’s the goal.

“You know, I’m kind of learning as we go here. I’m trying not to get ahead of myself so I haven’t asked too many questions as far as what the time frames are other than just the obvious of when am I going to be able to get back in a car, and he’s very confident February will be OK.”

Stewart said he doctor had told him he would have a 100-percent recovery and when it healed “it’ll actually be stronger than it was before.”

In a press conference that consumed slightly more than an hour, the 42-year-old Stewart, wearing a

Tony Stewart says he will be ready to roll by Daytona. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

special boot on his right leg and foot, joked with the media and even asked the questions to continue so he wouldn’t have to go home and go to bed. He talked about how the cards from fans and visits from competitors had helped energize him and kept his attitude on the right track. Stewart also noted he had missed only one appearance since his accident and would resume that part of his job this week. In fact, Stewart said not driving a race car was the only part of his job he would miss.

Stewart has followed his race teams on his computer, watched race weekend activities on TV and talked with crew chiefs and drivers via a special radio hookup. During the question and answer session, he reviewed his discussions with Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas over the formation of a fourth team and the hiring of Kurt Busch, assessed the performances of each SHR team, and emphasized the importance of getting Ryan Newman into the Chase. He also talked about the safety issues being addressed in Sprint Car racing and recounted his accident, confirming it was the torque tube that hit his leg. He also said he would again race Sprint Cars.

At times Stewart joked with the media and often smiled when sharing one-liners, but it was clear the Indiana native understood the gravity of his injury and the intense recovery that lay ahead.

“This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with,” the NASCAR and Indy Car champion said. “This is definitely the worse injury I’ve ever had in my life and my racing career. It’s definitely been a big change for me from probably one of the busiest drivers on the schedule to being in bed seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

“There was a lot of skin damage in the accident. So they got that all taken care of in Iowa, which I will say that from the time that the car stopped in the wreck to the time that I got to Eddie and Dana Jarvis’ house, that’s about as good a care as I possibly could have imagined ever would have happened.

“Jay Mercer was the first one to get to me at the race car. He’s got a very good medical staff that takes care of the racers at Huset’s Speedway in South Dakota and they go down to Oskaloosa and help during Nationals week. The care that his staff gave me at the track and all the way to the first hospital, and when we got to Des Moines and got to the hospital there, their staff in that first surgery went really, really well. They flew me back to Charlotte on Wednesday, two days after the first surgery, and on Thursday morning at eight I went into the second surgery. That was to insert the titanium rod that’s in my leg right now and that rod will stay in. There’s no anticipated extra surgeries after this. We’re on the mend.

“This past Wednesday they took out 90 percent of the stitches that were in the skin. The skin is healing really well. There was a lot of skin damage where the bones, where they got through the skin during the accident. The rest of those will actually come out with the doctor that helps us here with Stewart-Haas Racing that will be at the race this weekend. He’s going to take out the remaining stitches, and then we’ll be done with that.

“We’re not out of the woods as far as infection right now with the skin or the bones, but the time frame that the doctor said is if we can get through the first two months and not have any dramas with infection that the odds of getting it are really, really low. We’re halfway there on that, and the skin keeps healing faster than the doctor anticipated, so everything is progressing really well right now.”

Stewart said there was never a possibility that he might lose his leg.

“The first phase of this healing process was getting the skin to heal together, which I’ll admit I’ve been about as squeamish as anybody you’ve ever seen,” Stewart said. “I literally have damned near passed out at every doctor visit I’ve been to so far with the surgeon. I go into it with the attitude that I’m not going to look at my leg, and as soon as they get the wrapping off of it, I’m like, I’ve got to look. It’s like yelling at a dog going “squirrel.” I cannot not look and then I spend the rest of the time sitting there with a wet washcloth on my forehead trying to regain consciousness.”

Stewart said he doesn’t have another doctor’s visit for three Wednesdays and that’s the longest he’s been without seeing him.

“I’m pretty sure that right after that we’re going to start therapy, and like I said, the main reason I don’t know the answer to that is because I’m trying to keep from getting ahead of myself,” Stewart continued.

“I do know that when we start therapy he said there’s going to be a lot of crying involved, so I’m not looking forward to that, but I am looking forward to being able to get up and walk around like I’m used to doing and getting around like I’m used to. And the biggest thing is I can’t wait to get back in a race car. I want to be ready for Daytona. As far as when he’s going to give me the green light, I don’t know what that’s going to entail. I’m sure a lot of it’s going to be really the bones being healed 100 percent, or as close that it needs to be to do what I need to do.

The rest of it I think is going to be up to us therapy-wise to get that back in shape, and I can promise you we’ll work really hard on that side to accomplish that goal, too. The doctor will ultimately make that decision as far as when we’re cleared to get back in a race car.

Stewart said it had yet to be determined if he would undergo therapy in Charlotte or Indianapolis, but his doctor had emphasized he wanted him to have one therapist. He has started working with the heavy rubber bands in flexing his leg, but he knew that was merely the tip of the iceberg.

When asked about the accident, Stewart emphasized it was just that – an accident – and noted he could have received his injury in some other way. He even cited Bobby Labonte’s bicycle accident last week that sidelined him with three broken ribs.

“It’s just life, guys. Things happen every day,” Stewart said calmly. “You’ve got to live life. You can’t spend your whole life trying to guard against something happening. If you do that, in my opinion, you’ve wasted your time. We are all here a short amount of time in the big picture and I’m somebody that wants to live life. I’m not somebody that wants to sit there and say, ‘I’ve got to guard against this and I’ve got to worry about that.’

“I mean, if I got in a race car and didn’t wear a helmet and didn’t wear seatbelts, then that would be dangerous, and that’s being foolish. We don’t do that, but I’m going to go live my life. I’m going to take full advantage of whatever time I’ve got on this earth. I’m going to ride it out to the fullest and I’m going to get my money’s worth; you can bet your butt on that.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 3 2013
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