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Tony Stewart was more than ready to climb into the cockpit.
The magic day arrived Friday when he practiced for today’s Sprint Unlimited event in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The best part for Stewart is he can stop talking about his injuries and start driving. Certainly for a while, there will be questions about how his leg is feeling and what effect he believes that the injury has on his performance.
Eventually, though, everyone will concentrate on his performance and not whether his leg hurts.
During the NASCAR media tour, Stewart said he and his team were trying to hold off as long as possible before putting him into a car.
Stewart said the healing process is about “65 percent” finished and he didn’t think it would be a great idea, as much as his team needs to test his equipment, for him to drive tests.
“We needed to let that leg have as much time as possible to heal before we actually had to get in the car,” he said. “We’re not anticipating any problems, but it’s eliminating opportunities for something to aggravate or re-injure it.”
On Aug. 5, Stewart’s whole world changed, as did that of Stewart-Haas Racing. His crash in Iowa wiped out the rest of his season and left Stewart-Haas Racing without its star driver. Everyone in racing knows that the potential for injury exists, but once it does actually happen, it creates a lot of problems. Stewart-Haas Racing had to get substitute drivers, cancel personal appearances by Stewart and, more importantly, placate sponsors.
Stewart-Haas Racing seemed to have implemented effective damage control. They doubtless learned from the experience, and there is almost certainly a better contingency plan now in case it is needed. It is also certain that other teams have learned from the Stewart-Haas’ experience. All the teams know they are not immune to catastrophe.
A lot of people blamed the situation on the fact that Stewart was running in a World of Outlaws race that had nothing to do with his NASCAR career. However, he could have been injured driving his Sprint Cup car, driving his BMW to the track, or just slipping getting out of the shower. You can’t let the fact that bad things can happen keep you from living your life.
Stewart is a racer, and all he ever really wanted to do was race. While some drivers play golf, hunt, fish or take their families on vacation, Stewart just races. He’ll race midgets, sprint cars and even a dirt late model once in a while.
He was running a lot of World of Outlaws sprint-car races in large part because he had a team that would be there anyway. It was largely a part of getting an extra car to the track. And he had two of the best winged sprint-car drivers in the business, Steve Kinser and Donny Schatz, for teammates.
Stewart likes to race with his friends. It enables him to take a break from the politics and pressures involved in NASCAR racing and leaves him refreshed for the business at hand when he returns to the stockcar wars.
Despite his bad experience, Stewart will continue his extracurricular racing, although on a reduced scale. His diehard open-wheel fans certainly hope that he keeps the Rumble at Fort Wayne and the Chili Bowl on his schedule.
As far as his return to Sprint Cup racing, Stewart is fortunate to be part of a four-car team. He can get a lot of help from his teammates to give him good feedback on what is working and what isn’t in setting up the car. Each driver has to temper teammates’ suggestions according to personal driving style. Still, it gives them a starting point.
With two new drivers in the picture, there are myriad other things that they have to learn about working with each other. Unfortunately, a lot of the responsibility for making this work has to fall on Stewart. He is, after all, the boss, and the buck stops with him. He has had a good working relationship with Kevin Harvick, and that should help to solidify the base for a winning team strategy.
The wild card in all of this is Kurt Busch. He has a lot of talent, and he certainly has the potential for making the entire team effort more successful. His willingness to be an enthusiastic participant in the team’s effort could greatly increase its odds for success. On the contrary, a bad attitude on his part would have the potential of hurting the team’s effort.
Another plus is the track at Daytona. With so much of the race being run wide open, it should be easier on his leg. However, they won’t really know how much discomfort Stewart will feel until he’s actually run some laps. They have made a lot changes to the ergonomics of car in an attempt to make it more comfortable for him to drive.
We’ll know a lot more about what all of this means in a couple of days. Stay tuned.
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