NASCAR

NSCS: Tony Stewart Getting Geared Up to Return for the Daytona 500

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Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images

 

By Joseph Wolkin-Associate Editor (@JosephNASCAR)

January 9, 2014

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.– Tony Stewart is attempting to rebound from his horrific experience that was the 2013 NASCAR season. Stewart suffered season ended leg injuries after a sprint car series accident during the week after the second Pocono race in August.

Now, it is a new season. It is a time for a fresh start, and that is what Stewart truly needs. While being out of the race car, Stewart has grown into a leader for the organization even more than he was in the past.

 

Stewart, 42, is no where close to retiring. With an organization expanding to four cars in 2014, Stewart is poised to be a contender for the championship. During a press conference late Thursday morning, Stewart stated that he believes three of his four cars will be able to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and if they don’t, he will be extremely disappointed.

Even though Stewart is not 100 percent as of now, he does believe he will be ready for the Daytona 500, and all events prior to the Great American race.

“I feel pretty good. I still have a little ways to go, but we’ve got four weeks to get the rest of the way. Even when we get here in February, it’s not going to be 100 percent. Physically, I’m not going to feel 100 percent, but I’ll be able to do my job 100 percent, so that’s the main thing. I don’t mind it taking a little longer for the physical side to heal, as long as I can drive a race car when I need to when I get back,” Stewart said at the Daytona International Speedway.

Stewart had three surgeries to repair his leg, and because of it, he will not be cleared to race until just a day prior to the Sprint Unlimited. However, it should not effect him too much considering that Stewart has been around NASCAR competition since 1998 where he first began his jump from open-wheel cars.

During the off-season, Stewart spent his time with family, yet he also did intense physical therapy to make sure he will be ready to return. He is on pace to return at Daytona, but while he is out, Mark Martin will be testing the No. 14 Chevrolet at Daytona.

His role is huge, obviously.  I mean, when he comes to the shop, he doesn’t come around and just walk around and smile and say hi to everybody.  I mean, when Mark shows up at the shop he’s got an agenda and he’s wide open when he gets there getting it done.

“I think there’s more that he can contribute that I even realize he can at this point, but he’s been very good about when he comes to the shop of working with all the crew chiefs and being a big asset of getting things ready for this year,” Stewart said.

“I don’t know any team other than us that have somebody like Mark that can do as much as he can do right now.  He’s so versatile with being able to drive and at the same time being able to go and help with direction on things that he sees that he knows needs changed and things that we’re doing right that they need to pat the guys on the back for.

Stewart’s main challenge might be to run the team which is expanding faster than he originally believed. Stewart’s team will consist of Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and himself for the 2014 season. However, Stewart is being realistic, and recognizes that Patrick is still growing as a driver.

“This year I think will be a big year for her.  I think she’s going to — I think having that first full season under her belt now and being able to go to every place twice and get the feeling of what a Cup weekend is like, I think all the news wore off of that this year and I think she knows more what to expect and it’s more a matter of focusing on the things that she can be better at.  I think all four of us have the potential to do better than all four of us did last year.  But for sure I feel like we’ve got three cars that can win races and make the Chase right now.”

As of now, Stewart’s priority remains to be getting ready for the 2014 season. He is not going to be fully healed by the time the sport hits Daytona in mid-February, yet he is going to deal with the pain as a true racer would do. Stewart has a sponsor lined up to run in sprint cars again in 2014, but he believes it will be a while before he gets back into those cars as he does not want to risk anything that will keep him out of the Cup Series car once again.

 

 

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