Stewart, Dillon ready to tag-team Talladega

Tony Stewart’s final season got off to a late start because of an injury. He’s not trying to cut it any shorter.

In an effort to avoid re-injuring his back in just his second race, Stewart will be tag-teaming today’s race at Talladega with Ty Dillon, who drove Stewart’s No. 14 car five times during the Columbus native’s eight-week absence.

Though Dillon drove during qualifying on Saturday, placing 14th, Stewart will start the race and drive until the first caution flag comes out. At that point, he plans to pit and hand the steering wheel to Dillon, who will try to finish out the restrictor-plate race.

By taking the initial green flag, Stewart still will be able to pick up Sprint Cup points while avoiding most of a race that isn’t set up well for someone fresh off an injury.

“Understanding the style of racing and the higher potential of getting involved in an incident,” Stewart explained, “we thought it best to minimize the amount of time I’m in the car.”

Stewart missed the first eight races of the season after sustaining a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in a Jan. 31 all-terrain vehicle accident. He returned last weekend at Richmond, where he finished 19th.

This will be the first Sprint Cup race at Talladega for Dillon, but in six NASCAR Xfinity, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and ARCA races at the track, he has led 131 laps, including at least one in each start.

Stewart was at the track for seven of the eight races he missed, including four of Dillon’s starts, so he’s not worried about there being a communication gap between the two.

For the 24-year-old Dillon, the chance to work with a veteran such as Stewart has been quite rewarding.

“I’ve been able to talk with Tony at the racetrack at each of these weekends, and that’s meant so much,” he said. “Having a legend of our sport helping me out in my first couple of starts in a series has been huge for my confidence.”

Today, Dillon will try to repay Stewart by driving the No. 14 car to victory.

— Ryan O’Leary

Tony's final lap

TODAY’S RACE

GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, 1 p.m. (Fox)

Starting position: 14th

LAST WEEK

Finished 19th in Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond

CHASE FOR THE CUP

Last week: 22 points

Season total: 22 points (40th)

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.