CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tony Stewart is ready to go back racing, even though the three-time NASCAR champion admits he’s physically not back to 100 percent.
His right leg, broken in an August sprint car accident, has not completely healed back. He suffered a setback in October when infection set in and he had to undergo a third surgery.
“It’s not healed 100 percent,” Stewart said at the 32nd annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour. “But the titanium rods in my leg, that’s what adds the strength to it. This is an injury that’s not healed 100 percent, no bones about it.”
Stewart, 42, missed the last 14 Sprint Cup races of the season after the injury. He has not taken part in preseason testing and plans are for him to wait until one day before racing begins for him to drive the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
In the meantime, he’s itching to get back on track, often getting in the cockpit of his race car.
“I’ve sat in there and pushed the pedal a million times,” he said. “Actually driving the car, I won’t drive the car until the day before the Sprint Unlimited.”
He explained there isn’t any discomfort driving a street car and it’s actually more comfortable than lying in bed. While it’s still an unknown at this point, he feels driving a race car should be even better since the seats are custom-fitted.
An unknown is how the leg will react to the stress, particularly if there is a vibration with the car. Stewart, who ended up 29th in the Cup Series points as a result of the injury, believes the metal in his leg will make it as strong as before.
“It may be healed just 65 percent, but it will be as strong as it was before the injury because of the titanium rods,” he said. “Do we feel there is a risk? No more than there normally is. We’re trying to be proactive and think about the challenges before we get down there. We’re forward-thinking and planning for anything that can happen.”
Stewart, a former Indy Car and USAC Triple Crown champion as well as a 48-time winner in the Cup Series, normally gets ready for the season by driving those sprint cars during the winter months. The injury has curtailed all of his ventures outside of the Sprint Cup Series.
“There’s nothing that gets you prepared for driving a race car like driving 4-5 times a week like I was doing,” he said. “I’ve broken my hand before. I’ve broken my shoulder blade and the back of my hip, so I’ve had injuries, just not to this extent. But, the strength comes back quickly once you get in the car. We’re doing a lot of stuff in therapy to build that strength as well.
“Last year, I could run a 500-mile race, run another 500-mile race and be just fine. Because I won’t be as strong, doesn’t be I can’t do what I need to do. Driving a race car is as much mental as physical. On the mental side, I’ll be plenty good to go.”