Driver Tony Stewart doesn’t know when he’ll race this season. But he remains resolute that this is his final year as a Sprint Cup driver.
“When they clear me to do it … when it’s time to get back in the car, we’ll be plenty ready,” said Stewart, who broke his back in a dune-buggy accident Jan. 31 and is out indefinitely, including for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Stewart felt well enough to make the trip to Las Vegas in a role as coach, cheerleader and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, albeit against doctor’s orders, just as he did last week when he traveled to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Next week, Stewart will be have his back X-rayed in Charlotte, the first time since he had surgery that there will be any kind of medical update on his condition.
After that, Stewart hopes he’ll have some kind of timetable for his return. But Stewart said the injury hasn’t changed his mind about retiring, which he announced in 2015.
I’m definitely breaking the rules. (Doctors) don’t want me flying out here.
“I’m not going to change the plan because I got hurt,” said Stewart, a three-time Cup champion. “These are the cards we were dealt. We’ll play the rest of the year out. As soon as they tell me I can be back in the car, I’m going to be wide open, 100 percent. I’m not going to leave anything on the table each race. It’s everything I can get. At the end of the year, we got what we got. I’ll go on with the rest afterward.”
For now, Stewart is trying to heal as fast as he can. He implied his doctors weren’t happy with his decision to come to Atlanta and Las Vegas.
“I’m definitely breaking the rules,” he said. “The doctors want me laying in bed and walking. They don’t me sitting and standing. They don’t want me flying out here. They didn’t want me in Atlanta. But I can’t lay in bed any longer. It’s about to kill me. We did everything short of bubble wrap me to ride out here on the plane.”
Stewart said he hopes NASCAR will grant him a medical waiver that would him make him eligible to qualify for the Chase, as it did last season for Kyle Busch, who missed the season’s first 11 races with a broken leg and foot. NASCAR rules state a drive attempt to qualify for every race to be eligible for the Chase.
Stewart broke his back in a dune-buggy accident in January and is out indefinitely.
“Whatever they decide, they decide,” Stewart said of NASCAR. “I would like to think it’s going to be similar to what they said last year with Kyle.”
For Stewart, it’s about pain management, although the healing process must also be allowed to take place.
“(I) feel pretty good,” he said. “It’s like everything else: your body tells you when it’s had enough, when it’s sore. You’ve just got to listen to it. We try not to sit any longer than we have to, try not to stand up very long.
“Even if I’m in a small group, if I take three or four steps back, stay in the group, it almost looks like you’re eager to go to the bathroom. But you have to move around a little bit to keep the weight from hanging there and being hard on the rods in my back.”
At Atlanta, Stewart offered advice to Ty Dillon, his replacement driver in the No. 14 Chevy, even spending time in the spotter’s stand. Brian Vickers, who drove for Stewart in the season-opening Daytona 500 and will do so again at Las Vegas, won’t need as much help.
“Brian has been around this long enough,” said Stewart. “He knows what to do. He doesn’t need me telling him what to do. I think it’s good for our team, more than anything. I want to be here to support them. I want them to know that even though I’ve kind of put them in a box, that I’m going to be here and I’m going to be supportive. That’s a big deal for me.
“It’s hard. I’m a lot happier here. I would rather be here in pain than be at home comfortable and no pain. The pain is worth it.”