Notes From The NASCAR Nation: The Smoke Will Rise Again
By Dave Grayson
After spending far too many days confined to bed, a very upbeat Tony Stewart held a lengthy press conference at the Stewart-Haas Racing, (SHR), headquarters. This event marked Stewart’s first public appearance since his serious sprint car racing accident back on August 5th.That incident resulted in a broken tibula and fibula in his right leg that required a double round of surgery.
There were multiple topics covered during this press conference that included his current health status and a projected return to racing. A huge topic referenced his SHR partner, Gene Haas, and his hiring of driver Kurt Busch for a fourth start up team as well as his plans regarding future sprint car racing.
With a big smile on his face, Stewart began the Q & A session by telling the members of the media “oddly enough, I actually miss you guys, which tells you that I’m not healthy yet and the reason we’re going to be here until your questions are over is Mike took my wheelchair so basically I’m stuck here.”
Here’s some of the major bullet points from the press conference:
THE HEALTH AND RECOVERY PROCESS.
. Stewart called the sprint car accident the worst he’s ever endured in 35 years of racing and also called it the worst injury he’s ever had in his life.
. A titanium rod has been surgically placed in his leg and will remain there permanently. 90% of the stitches placed in his right leg have now been removed by doctors.
. An extremely intense physical therapy program will begin around the end of September. Stewart admitted that he wasn’t looking forward to it because his doctors said “there’s going to be a lot of crying involved.”
. Stewart said he’s made huge gains in the recovery process over the last month. He’s also carefully listening to his doctors, and adhering to their prescribed time table adding that he wants to avoid getting too far ahead of the recovery process in order to avoid an accidental physical setback.
. Doctors are confident that Stewart will achieve 100% recovery by February which will clear him to return to the driver’s seat in time for the season opener at Daytona.
. No longer confined to bed, Stewart has been at the SHR offices taking care of business with plans to continue some personal appearance commitments. The day after the press conference he travelled to Tallahassee-Florida for an appearance at a Bass Pro Shops store. Next on the travel schedule was a planned appearance at the Richmond International Raceway.
. Stewart also pointed out that the best medicine so far has been the massive amount of well wishes from the fans and his racing colleagues representing every form of motorsports you can name. An example of this was the 850 text messages he received within 36 hours of the accident.
SHR’s FOURTH TEAM AND THE HIRING OF KURT BUSCH.
. The media at this press conference was literally chomping at the bit to hear Stewart’s thoughts on his partner, Gene Haas, creating a fourth, start up, team for driver Kurt Busch on his own without talking to him about it first.
. First off, Stewart pointed out that this sequence of events was no where near as dramatic as many perceived it to be. He also pointed out that at no time were there any arguments between him and his partner regarding this matter.
. Stewart admitted that he was somewhat caught off guard by how fast Haas was able to put this deal together and said: “when Gene came to me about the fourth team he told me on a Monday, and then on Thursday I was told they had a contract ready.”
. Stewart also made it clear that he was not against the concept of SHR expanding to four teams nor did he have a problem with someone on the caliber of Busch joining the organization’s roster of drivers.
. Stewart said his concern was the timing. He questioned the feasibility of starting a fourth, brand new, team so late in the year especially with the 2014Daytona Speed Week tests coming in January.
. It was Greg Zipadelli, SHR Director of Competition, who swayed Stewart’s thinking on this matter. Stewart said: “Greg told me we can do this and we can get this done in the time frame. It may not be fun, and it may not be easy, but we can do it” adding “that’s what made me finally give my 100% blessing on it.”
. Calling him a very smart man who single handed created a very successful business, Stewart said he was very proud of Gene Haas for being so active in this process and again stated that there were no serious arguments between the two of them.
. During the mid July NASCAR weekend at Loudon-New Hampshire, SHR held a press conference and announced that Ryan Newman, the driver of their #39 team, would not be returning next season. This decision was reportedly largely based on sponsorship availability. At the same time, it was also stated that SHR would be a three car operation next year featuring Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick.
. However, it was the end of August when SHR announced the addition of Kurt Busch to their brand new, fourth, team. That created a fire storm of reports that indicated that maybe the previous announcement regarding Newman’s status with the team was misleading.
. At his press conference Stewart addressed that issue and pointed out that, at the time of the Newman announcement, there were absolutely no plans to expand to four teams. He further pointed out that the first ever dialogue between Busch and Haas didn’t occur until a week later during the NASCAR week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Busch and Haas were both attending a dinner, hosted by Chevrolet’s Racing Division, and it was during that event when Haas first approached Busch about joining SHR. Haas, at this time, also reportedly pledged sponsorship from his privately owned company: Haas Automation CNC.
. Stewart also made it clear that he was very upset with Fox Sports 1′s racing analyst Kyle Petty who said that he felt Newman was deceived by SHR. Stewart said he has completely quit watching NASCAR themed talk shows because of Petty’s claim.
. Regarding his relationship with Newman, Stewart said he planned to have a “heart to heart talk” with him regarding any possible issues. He also pointed out that both of them agreed that an issue regarding business was not going to interfere with their long term friendship.
SPRINT CAR RACING.
. Despite his injury, Stewart said he does indeed plan to return to the world of sprint car racing next season although he has yet to establish a time line for it. However he did say his sprint car racing schedule will be greatly reduced in 2014 from this year’s 70 total races to a number of events that is more schedule friendly.
. Stewart acknowledged that it has been a terrible summer for the sprint car racing community but did not directly reference the tragic death of formerNASCAR driver Jason Leffler. He noted that sprint car manufacturers and safety engineers have already started the process of finding ways to enhance the safety areas of these cars and said: “it would be something positive out of the negative from getting hurt.”
. Despite the severity of his sprint car crash and his injury, it was clearly evident that Stewart has not lost his sense of sarcasm that frequently made fans laugh out loud and, on occasion, has even intimidated a few members of the media.
. Commenting on the time he had to spend confined to bed, he said: “I’ve got to watch Oprah the last four weeks now and I’m very tired of watching TV.
. When asked by a reporter if there was one thing he particularly missed about not being at the race track, Stewart quickly replied “hot girls” and added he was hoping to get at least one hot looking nurse to take care of him.
. Regarding SHR’s upcoming transition to becoming a four car team Stewart said: “my role in all of this, as well as healing, is to be cheerleader and keep Zippy, (Greg Zipadelli), pumped up. Like I said, he can’t wait for me to get all healed up because he wants to beat the crap out of me getting him in this position.”
. Stewart also announced that, during his visit to the NASCAR weekend at Richmond, he will be ditching the wheel chair for an alternative mode of transportation. He wouldn’t comment on what the new ride is but did say “I’ll surprise you with it on Friday, but when you see it you’ll realize that I had a lot of time on my hands.” When asked if he engineered it, he said: “I don’t engineer anything, I’m just the guy who comes up with the really stupid ideas.”
. Stewart revealed that, during his tenure of being laid up, he learned how to use the Internet as well as how to shop on the Internet which has made him very, very dangerous to the SHR accounting department. “I should be done with my Christmas shopping in about a week,” he said.
. Believe it or not, 21 days after his accident Stewart returned to racing and to victory lane. He was driving an electric scooter, a gift from Kurt Busch, against Greg Park, from the SHR Finance Department, who also uses an electric scooter to get around in. The Rascal 500 was held on a race course located in SHR’s Engineering and Marketing Departments and Stewart has victory lane photos to certify his latest win. “I’m proud to announce that, after 21 days, I’m back in the winner’s circle and have not forgotten how to win races,” he said.
Make no mistake about it, the “Smoke” will rise again.