Stewart Ready to Race
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on February 13, 2014 | 5:17 P.M. EST
Tony Stewart says his right leg won't be 100 percent for a year but he's in good enough shape to return to racing. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Months of waiting were evident on Tony Stewart’s face.
He and teammate Kevin Harvick boarded a plane after a sponsor appearance Monday and the realization that Stewart was merely days away from returning to a stock car for the first time since his Aug. 5 sprint car crash became quite clear.
“He was like a crazed lunatic,’’ Harvick said of Stewart. “You could see that look in his eye. He looked at me and said ‘I’m ready to race.’ ‘’
For as much as any driver looks forward to the start of the season, few, if any, are as excited as the three-time champion.
Stewart will be back in the car Friday, practicing for Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway. Stewart says his right leg, severely injured in that sprint car crash, is at 65 percent and won’t be fully healed for another year.
“There were so many gaps in the bone,’’ Stewart said. “A hairline fracture doesn’t have far to grow the rest of the way, but when you have pieces that are missing, it’s got to regenerate that bone.’’
Even with that condition, he’s been cleared by NASCAR to drive. Stewart has a titanium rod in his leg and therapy has helped rebuild strength in his leg. Stewart says there are no plans to have a backup driver on standby.
Stewart admits Saturday night’s 75-lap exhibition races provides a perfect setup for him for next week’s Daytona 500.
“If there's something we need to change that we don't learn in practice with a problem, this is probably the best-case scenario of what you have as far as a schedule for the week,’’ Stewart said.
Comfort will be a key for Stewart. His right foot and toes also suffered injuries and he’s said for months that he worried about keeping the accelerator pressed by his foot. He said the team has worked with the angle of the pedal to make the situation as comfortable as possible.
Yet even with that, Stewart knows there will be pain.
He admits the pain has been the worst part of his recovery.
“That’s a level of pain I’ve never had before,’’ he said. “You'd think having the ability to lay in bed, you get comfortable. I've never spent so much time laying in bed feeling uncomfortable in my life.’’
He felt pain Wednesday night when a storm struck the area.
“When that weather came through, I knew it an hour before it got here,‘‘ Stewart said. “It's a barometer. I've had troubles with migraines before. I have a primary and backup system that is going to tell you what the weather is going to do. I could have predicted within an hour when it was going to snow in Charlotte.
“That's one thing that is frustrating. We came down, the weather is nice, it felt good. All of a sudden it got cold, the rain came. All of a sudden I got sore. This morning it was not as sore as it was last night but not as good as when we got down here. It constantly goes up and down and it's going to do that for a long time.’’
Even so, he can take solace in being back. Although the injury forced him to miss the final 15 races of last season, Stewart’s competitors expect him to be strong immediately.
“I can’t wait for him to sit in that seat,’’ teammate Kurt Busch said. “I’m going to go shake his hand and say welcome back. And you’ll watch him drive out there and he’ll be happy again. He’s going to be the same old Tony, like we never missed him from before.”