The prognosis for Tony Stewart to race in the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race the week before the Daytona 500 is good. But there's not a whole lot of wiggle room.
Stewart said Thursday at Daytona that he's on schedule to be cleared to drive on the day before the Unlimited, which is Saturday, February 15. He also said that he won't feel 100 percent, but that the smoothness of the Daytona track will help Stewart's introduction back into race conditions.
Don't worry, NASCAR rule-enforcers. Stewart said that he'd be able to give 100 percent. No violations there.
"It's continuing to get better, and like I say, we've got four more weeks to get ready for that," Stewart said. "Luckily this is a smooth racetrack. It's not rough and bumpy. If it were Dover, I would be a lot more concerned. But the hard part with here is you're just with your throttle, with your right leg, you're on the gas so long. That's the only thing we're worried about right now just because we just don't know until we get in a car and actually run, and we're not going to know that until the day before. We'll get a little bit of time in there, but we'll know a little better after practice is over."
Stewart broke his leg in August while racing in a sprint car race in Iowa. He missed the rest of the 2013 season while Mark Martin, Austin Dillon and Max Papis drove the No. 14 in his absence. Martin is scheduled to test the car at Preseason Thunder testing this week.
Stewart's expectations for himself in 2014 still include the Chase. As Stewart-Haas Racing expands to four teams with the addition of Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick comes over from Richard Childress Racing, Stewart says he wants those two and himself in the Chase this season.
"I think every week we for sure have three guys that can go out and win the race, and I think on the fourth driver, I think Danica has got potential to be more consistent this year," Stewart said. "I think she's got three teammates that are going to be behind her 100 percent.
You know, I think we can win a lot of races. I think realistically we could get three cars in the Chase. It wouldn't surprise me at all. I'd almost be a little disappointed in all three of these cars don't make the Chase by the end of the year. It's not that we're discounting Danica, but it's still a work in progress. She's still learning.
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."
- - - - - - -