COMMENTARY | For a driver suffering through the worst injury of his 35-year racing career, Tony Stewart is remarkably upbeat, and even - GASP! - cracking jokes with reporters.
"Oddly enough, I actually miss you guys," said Stewart in a recent teleconference. "Which tells you that I'm not healthy yet."
Stewart and the media have had their run-ins over the years, and he's not always the smoothest interview, but the media got what they wanted - and maybe more than they expected - when Stewart took to the microphone to answer questions on Tuesday. One of the first things they wanted to know: when will he be getting back in a race car?
"They're (doctors ) looking at the beginning of February, which isn't a bad deal," said Stewart. "I mean, it's really - I guess if you had to have this injury happen, if it would have happened a month later, it would have got us in a really big bind for next year even, so we would have missed not only this year but the beginning of next year, as well."
Will he get back in a sprint car?
"I am going to get back in a car eventually," said Stewart. "There's no time frame on when I'm going to get back in one, but I'm definitely going to cut back the amount of races, just on scheduling purposes more than anything. I was starting to tell I was getting a little bit tired around Brickyard time, and that was - we had the truck race that week, which was a lot of stress, and we had a lot of races scheduled in the two weeks prior to that."
What does he miss about being at the track?
"The hot girls, there's no doubt," quipped Stewart. "I mean, when you're laying in bed there's not much traffic going through my room. I thought surely through three Cup championships, an IndyCar championship, winning the USAC triple crown, a national championship in '94, that I could surely out of this whole process get one hot nurse during this whole thing, and I got (business manager) Eddie Jarvis to take care of me."
While he didn't get the hot nurse in the deal, Stewart was quick to thank Jarvis and his wife, Dana, for taking care of him "like family" and for turning their world upside-down for him. He also reaped praise on his Stewart-Haas Racing team, especially competition director Greg Zipadelli and his No. 14 crew chief Steve Addington. "I think he's (Addington's) done a great job, the teams have done a great job communicating and working and keeping their eye focused on what the goal is each week," said Stewart.
When talk turned back to the 2014 season, Stewart was asked about early-season testing in light of his injury. "I'm all for Mark Martin doing all the testing he wants to do," said Stewart. "I've never been a big fan of testing anyway. It's like watching paint dry to me."
Stewart then proceeded to get a little silly again, when asked about his apparent weight loss. "That was the goal," deadpanned Stewart. "I thought, man, the only way I'm truly going to lose weight, because I'm not as dedicated as Mark (Martin) is to the workout program, the only way I'm going to be able to do this is I'm going to have to break something so I can lose weight."
The quips continued. "I told the crew guys, I said, there's no doubt in my mind that through the hiring process, we're definitely going to have to hire a lot more people for the team," said Stewart. "There's going to be two really key positions that we're going to have to fill, and that's, one, a therapist for me, and the second one is the therapist for the rest of the team. But it's going to be fun. I think there's a lot more positives than - everybody is looking at this as oh, my God, this is an atomic bomb that can get set off at any moment."
With four fiery personalities in Stewart, Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch on the team next season, Zipadelli may the one needing the therapist. "I can tell you this, when I heal, Greg Zipadelli is going to be the first one to try to kill me when I heal from this, but I've never been more proud of him and everyone here at Stewart-Haas," said Stewart of his long-time partner-in-crime. "To go through what we're going through and try to make the changes and the growth that we're going through all at the same time and in such a short amount of time and go through this injury, this team has stayed extremely focused."
Stewart has also been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the auto racing community - NASCAR, IndyCar, sports car, sprint car and Formula One drivers, plus many others from within the community. "I'm surprised I've been this upbeat about it, and I don't know why," said Stewart. "But I guess I just look at it as it's just a bump in the road. (Former drag racer) Darrell Gwynn came and saw me, and that's the one thing he said is he was really worried about me emotionally getting down. I spoke to him again this morning, and I guess a lot of people have been really surprised that we've been this upbeat about it. Got a lot of great friends and a lot of great friends that are drivers that I compete with each week that have been there to keep me pumped up."
He may be sidelined from NASCAR and sprint car racing, but Stewart still found a way to compete.
"I'm actually proud to announce that I have returned to racing, 21 days after my life-threatening and potentially career-ending injury," quipped the three-time Cup champ. "We had a scooter race upstairs with Greg Park, who is one of our head financial guys, who uses a scooter to get around, as well, and we had the Rascal 500 upstairs around the engineering department and the marketing department upstairs where I was victorious, and there is some video - not video, but we do have some photos of the victory lane celebration. I'm proud to announce that after 21 days I'm back in the winner's circle and not forgot how to win races. It may take a little longer for the second one, but the first one was successful."
That's Tony Stewart, always thinking about racing.
Source: "Transcript: Stewart -Haas Racing Teleconference with Tony Stewart," NASCAR Media, September 3, 2013
Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers NASCAR at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation
- Tony Stewart