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Tony Stewart expects to return fully healed

by Pete McCole
Tuesday, September 03, 2013

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Tony Stewart meets the media for the first time since his accident
Getty Images for NASCAR
Three-time Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart met with the media on Tuesday, marking his first public appearance since suffering a season-ending leg injury in the sprint car crash last month.

An upbeat Stewart told the media he hopes to be fully recovered and ready to race in the 2014 Sprint Cup season-opening race in February, calling his injury and “small bump in the road.”

He even joked that’s he’s already been to the winner’s circle in the weeks since his accident – winning a race riding a Rascal scooter at the Stewart-Haas Racing shop in Kannapolis, N.C.

“Oddly enough, I actually miss you guys, which tells you that I'm not healthy yet,” Stewart joked after he was wheeled out onto the stage to meet the assembled press, sporting a large black walking cast on his right leg.

Stewart suffered a broken fibula and tibia in sprint car crash on Aug. 5 at Southern Iowa Speedway Oskaloosa, Iowa. Since then, he’s had two surgeries to repair the damage and insert a steel rod to help the healing process, but hasn’t been cleared to get back in a race car.

“They're looking at the beginning of February, which isn't a bad deal,” said Stewart of his return to NASCAR. “Everything is going according to schedule and may actually be a little bit ahead of schedule, but as long as -- 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.

“He (Stewart’s doctor) is confident February will be okay. He said it should be 100 percent recovery.”

A former Triple Crown winner in USAC Sprint Cars, Stewart has always made time to go back to his roots in open wheel racing, participating in dozens of sprint car races every year in addition to his regular Sprint Cup schedule. When the crash happened, Stewart was 11th in points in the Sprint Cup standings and fighting for a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup before the injury took him out for the rest of the year.

“I’m surprised I've been this upbeat about it, and I don't know why,” said Stewart. “But I guess I just look at it as it's just a bump in the road.

“It's been surprising to me.  To go 35 years and run all the hundreds of races and thousands of races we've run, and to finally have an injury, it's like, this hasn't been a bad run of going out getting hurt.”

Stewart’s injury – coupled with the death of NASCAR driver Jason Leffler in a sprint car crash in June – put renewed focus on the safety of sprint car racing, and particularly on drivers such as Stewart risking their NASCAR careers by continuing to race sprint cars.

“I am going to get back in a (sprint) car eventually,” said Stewart. “Sprint car racing has had a dark cloud over it this summer and just a lot of things that normally don't happen in it have happened in a short amount of time.

“You never want something like this to happen, but a perfect example this week is Bobby Labonte was riding his bike and broke three ribs and missed a race.  It's just life, guys.  Things happen every day.  You can't guard against all the time, and the thing is 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.”

Since his accident, the Stewart-Haas Racing team has been busy, adding driver Kurt Busch to their driver lineup for 2014, joining Stewart, Danica Patrick and Kevin Harvick, who was just officially named to be joining the team last month.

In Stewart’s absence, team co-owner Gene Haas spearheaded the effort to sign Busch, which according to Stewart happened faster than he expected, and he refuted any notion that Haas went behind his back to bring Busch into the fold.

“Well, it wasn't as dramatic as (Gene) made it sound,” said Stewart. “When Gene (Haas) came to me about the fourth team, he told me on a Monday, and then on Thursday I was told that they had a contract ready.  So it definitely moved a lot faster, but in that time frame there were a lot of meetings in three days.

“The biggest thing was having (SHR competition director) Greg Zipadelli sit there and say we can do this and we can get it done in a time frame.  There's nobody I trust more through this process than (Zipadelli), and literally like when he said that he thought we could do this and it wasn't going to be fun and it wasn't going to be easy but we could do it, then that's what pushed me over the edge to say, okay, I'm in 100 percent with the timing of it, let's do it.”

For now, Stewart plans to soon begin rehab and physical therapy in preparation for returning to the race car in February, and will be back at the track – as a spectator – this weekend at Richmond.

How does Stewart plan to get around the racetrack? He ruled out crutches or a wheelchair.

“I do have an alternate mode of transportation,” said Stewart. “There has been a little bit of thought put into this.  I learned how to use the internet and how to shop on the internet, which has made me very, very dangerous to the accounting department. I'll surprise you with it on Friday, but when you see it you'll realize that I've had a lot of spare time on my hands.”

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