Stewart Will Wobble His Way Into Daytona 500
By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Tony Stewart said Monday the bone in his injured leg would only be about 65 percent healed when he returned to racing next month at Daytona, but the titanium rod in his leg would provide it with the strength it needed.
“The reality is it could get injured again,” Stewart admitted on opening day of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. “The risk is no more than it normally would be, it’s just a matter of what we have to do comfort-wise. We’re trying to be proactive and think of everything we can, whether it’s adding padding here and there to make it more comfortable, to protect it. We’re trying to make sure we’re doing things that will keep it from being aggravated or re-injured.”
Stewart broke his right tibia and fibula last August in a Sprint Car crash at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Since the accident the 42-year-old Stewart has undergone at least three surgeries and has been in physical therapy for about five months. He has been cleared to return to racing for the Feb. 15 Sprint Unlimited. Stewart has sat in his car so “seat fits” could be done, but he won’t drive his No. 14 Chevrolet until the day before the event.
“With the bone only being healed 65 percent, he [the doctor] doesn’t want me to risk getting into a car any earlier than I have to, to compete,” explained Stewart, who plans to return to racing Sprint Cars this year. “As much as I would like to be in a car for testing and it would be great for us as a team to test, we need to let that leg have as much time as possible to heal. They’re not anticipating any problem. They’re just eliminating opportunities for something to aggravate it or reinjure it.”
Stewart admitted he wasn’t as “race fit” as he has been in the past, but that was something that would return quickly once he began driving.
“It always has,” Stewart continued. “I’ve broke my hand before. I’ve broken my shoulder blade, the back of my left hip. I’ve had injuries, but not to this extent. That strength comes back very quickly once you get in the car. We’re still doing a lot of things in therapy that’s building that strength as well.
“Driving a race car is as much mental as it is physical and on the mental side we’re plenty good and ready to go.”
While sidelined with the injury Stewart said he had been able to make observations that he believed would make him a stronger owner.
“With this injury I was in a period where my driving was put on hold, but I could still be active as an owner,” Stewart explained. “It gave me an opportunity to take a different role on a race weekend and be able to do and see different things that I normally wouldn’t get a chance to do as a driver. It’s given me a perspective that’s a little bit different.
“It’s a perspective that I probably needed to see, but didn’t have the capability with my role as a driver every weekend. I feel like I’m a little more well-rounded. It doesn’t mean I’m a great owner yet, but I feel like there’s things I’ve been able to learn this fall that will help me down the road from that aspect.”
Stewart’s long-time friend and Stewart-Haas Racing Vice President of Competition Greg Zipadelli said he now sees in Stewart a person who is well-rested and extremely motivated.
“Deep down inside did it [the injury] change him a lot? I don’t know. I think time will tell,” Zipadelli said. “I don’t think you change Tony Stewart very much. He is who he is.”
Stewart said he hasn’t had a pain-free day since Aug. 5 when the accident occurred, but his passion and desire for the sport have never dimmed.
“If there was a night that I laid in bed and thought in my mind that something was different or that I questioned anything than I think I would feel different about it,” Stewart said. “But there’s never been a day or a night that I’ve sat there and I thought is coming back really the right thing for me to do. That has never been in my mind. It’s, ‘Man, how much longer is this going to take? How quick is it going to take to win a race?’ It’s the same things you think about when you go from season to season. The preparation has just been different this winter than it has been any other year.”
– Deb Williams can be reached at email@example.com Comments