Stewart-Haas Director of Competition Greg Zipadelli said Wednesday that while the team didn't have a definitive timeline for Stewart's return, it was currently preparing for life without Stewart for "a few weeks." Stewart is awaiting a second surgery on the fractured left tibia and fibula that he sustained in a sprint car crash on Monday night.
Yes, that means any discussions about Stewart's Chase chances, similar to the ones about Denny Hamlin's after he injured his back at California, can be put to rest.
"Well, I don't think we have a timeline right now. I think Tony has one more surgery that needs to be addressed," Zipadelli said. "I think at that time in the next 24 to 48 hours we will have a much better idea of exactly what the healing process will be and will be able to do a better job of -- is it six weeks or is it longer? Honestly we really do not have an answer for that right now."
The team has also not decided on how many drivers will driver for Stewart in his absence – that will likely be decided when Stewart's recovery timeline is set. With five races to go before the Chase, Stewart is 11th in points and was in position to be the first Wild Card entry into the Chase by virtue of his win in June at Dover.
"It's a few weeks. We need the next two or three weeks lined up and that's what we're going to start working on this afternoon and tomorrow," Zipadelli said.
Max Papis is driving Stewart's car at Watkins Glen on Sunday, and will not be commuting back and forth from Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., where he was originally scheduled to compete in the Grand-Am race there. Instead, he will focus solely on the Sprint Cup race.
"How I look at this, and I told Zippy this yesterday, as well. I'm 42 years old. I'm proud of what I've done so far in my career. Obviously this, I don't look at this like a career-changing something that is going to -- I look at this like an amazing opportunity in a terrible circumstances, and that's it," Papis said. "I'm just going to go out there and enjoy every lap I have, enjoy every second I have with the guys, and keep that seat warm for Smoke until he's going to come back. And who knows, maybe in the future we're going to have some laughs to share about what I did in this car."
Throughout his Sprint Cup racing career, Stewart has spent many weeknights, and even Sprint Cup weekends, racing at short tracks all over the country. And while Rick Hendrick has asked driver Kasey Kahne to not run sprint cars after seeing video of Kahne flipping a sprint car, as part-owner of Stewart-Haas, Stewart's his own boss. He likes running the races, and as he's said numerous times, he's going to continue to do it. Though if he does continue after his recovery, it will be after a team discussion, according to Zipadelli.
"I think it makes him better at what he does here, but it obviously leaves the door open for a situation that we're in now," Zipadelli said. "I think that as many races as he's run in the past, we're probably lucky that this is the first time we're dealing with this to be perfectly honest with you. You know, we'll do our best at Stewart-Haas to put pieces together and sit down and evaluate it, and I think it's – it would be a lot easier to look at and talk about things right now because we're in the situation that we're in moving forward.
"That doesn't mean anything other than we will talk about it, we'll discuss it and we'll try and do what's best for Stewart-Haas and our partners in the future."
He added: "Honestly, he's run so many of these races and flipped and those things, I think him and everyone around us didn't think Superman could get hurt. And this was his day."