Driver/owner Tony Stewart arrived in Las Vegas on Wednesday evening ready to celebrate with his #4 Stewart/Haas Racing, (SHR), team, led by Kevin Harvick, in honor of being the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions. The champion's festivities marks the second time SHR earned a Las Vegas style celebration. Stewart himself won the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship at the conclusion of the 2011 season.
However, there was one slight situation that was going to slow down Stewart's 2014 celebration just a little. He arrived at Las Vegas hanging on to a pair of crutches.
Stewart spent the morning of December 1st undergoing surgery on his right leg. The surgery was the fourth such procedure stemming from injuries sustained during a sprint car race in Iowa. The accident, that occurred back in August 2013, resulted in a fractured tibia and fibula followed by several months of intense physical therapy.
Commenting on the fourth, and most recent, operation, SHR spokesman Mike Arning described the procedure as being "routine maintenance." He also confirmed that Stewart was released from the hospital the following Wednesday morning and then, later that same day, boarded a private plane bound for Las Vegas.
Arning also said that Stewart decided against sitting on the main stage during the awards banquet and, in the name of comfort, elected to sit with his team in the audience. He also requested that his partner, Gene Haas, represent the team by sitting at the champion's table and accepting the owner's championship trophy.
Tony Stewart has more than earned the right to celebrate in Las Vegas. Let's face it, the past sixteen months has been layered with events that ranged somewhere between disappointing and emotionally brutal.
That process started with the aforementioned 2013 sprint car accident in Iowa leading to the most recent fourth surgical procedure. The recovery process forced Stewart to sit on the sidelines for the final one third of the 2013 Sprint Cup season.
Then, one year later, another incident, during a sprint car race in New York, led to the tragic death of Kevin Ward Jr. Ward reportedly felt like he had been spun him out and he ran out onto the track to confront Stewart.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Sadly, that's when he was struck by Stewart's car. Following a lengthy investigation, the incident was declared to be a tragic accident and the local Grand Jury declined to press charges against Stewart.
However, there was a major outcry from some who said Stewart should be punished in some form. Much of this condemnation was delivered by cable news personalities who clearly understood very little about auto racing and, at the same time, momentarily forgot about the concept of innocent until proven guilty.
A despondent Stewart remained in the seclusion for nearly a month before returning to his SHR Sprint Cup driving duties.
After sitting out three races, his return to Sprint Cup racing didn't exactly bring a sense of revival for Stewart. There were performance issues, combined with bad racing luck, that led to a 25th place finish in the 2014 points standings. Making that disappointment even worse was the conclusion of a 15 year streak that saw Stewart win at least one race per season.
Obviously, it was another long year for Stewart as a driver. However, as an owner, it ended strong with the dramatic championship run by Kevin Harvick and his team. Party on Tony Stewart, you deserve it.