Tony Stewart speaks for first time since getting injured

Leave a comment

For the first time since his sprint car accident that injured his right leg, Tony Stewart has broken his silence.

Oprah, having “at least one hot nurse,” weight loss, the media, sprint car safety, Kurt Busch’s new fourth team and his own recovery were all topics of conversation.

“Oddly enough I miss you guys, which tells me I’m not feeling good,” Stewart told reporters at the Stewart-Haas Racing shop in Kannapolis, N.C. to open the press conference.

Since his accident in Iowa several weeks ago, Stewart has been largely bed-ridden, watching in his words, “Oprah and way too much other TV” and beginning the recovery process after his pair of surgeries.

The first bit of news: Stewart hopes to be back in a race car by early February, ahead of the 2014 Daytona 500, but ideally after testing.

“Early February. That’s what they’re looking at,” Stewart said. “It’s something that’s part of this process. We do not want to do something too early. Have to try to guard against setbacks. It’s going according to schedule.

Asked later whether interim driver Mark Martin could stay on to test if Stewart isn’t ready in January, Stewart replied: “I’m all for Mark doing all the testing he wants to do! It’s like watching paint dry. If that scenario happens I hope he’d be willing to do that. You couldn’t ask for someone better. He’d pay more attention than I would.”

Stewart said almost from the off that you can’t be afraid to miss out on other opportunities; in his case, the sprint car racing he so loves to do on weekends he’s not at a NASCAR track.

“Bobby Labonte was riding his bike and missed a race. It’s just life, guys. People miss a race. You’ve gotta live life. You can’t spend your whole life guarding against something that could happen. We’re all here a short amount of time in the big picture. We don’t want to guard against this, or that. If I didn’t wear a helmet or seatbelts, then that would be dangerous.”

The biggest news from a team standpoint since Stewart’s injuries, other than his injury replacements (Max Papis, Austin Dillon and Mark Martin), has been the addition of Kurt Busch in a fourth Stewart-Haas entry for 2014.

Stewart scoffed at the suggestion that he or the team “deceived” Ryan Newman – as had been suggested by former driver Kyle Petty – and said his only concern throughout the process was the time needed to put together the crew and equipment needed for a fourth car.

“It wasn’t as dramatic as (Gene) made it sound,” Stewart said. “When Gene came to me about the fourth team, he told me on a Monday, then Thursday they had a contract ready. The biggest thing was Greg Zipadelli saying we could do this and getting it done in a time frame. To find someone like Kurt and make it happen has really been encouraging to me as his partner. It was just me getting caught up. I wanted to make sure we had the time. We have a lot to get done in a short amount of time. It may not be fun and may not be easy. That was what made me give 100 percent blessing. We never argued about it.”

One other thing Stewart let slip in the press conference was the unintentional confirmation of Rodney Childers as Kevin Harvick’s crew chief for 2014. Harvick joins Stewart-Haas as Newman’s replacement in the renumbered No. 4 Chevrolet.

“Welcome to, ‘Tony doesn’t remember protocol’” Stewart joked to the team’s PR manager.

Besides addressing the on-track items and his injury recovery process, Stewart was back to cracking jokes as the press conference continued. The following was his response when asked the one thing he missed at the tracks.

“The hot girls, no doubt,” he said. “When you’re laying in bed, there’s not much traffic. You know I thought that with three Cup championships, an IndyCar championship, a USAC Triple Crown, that I could surely get one hot nurse, and instead I got Eddie Jarvis to take care of me.”

There were other sidebars to the press conference – more on the fourth team, and more on sprint car safety – that Stewart addressed. We’ll hit those in separate posts.

Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

Getty Images
Leave a comment

CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku clash

Leave a comment

The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

More to follow.

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

INDYCAR
Leave a comment

Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”

Force India’s Celis gets FP1 appearances in Austria, Hungary

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Force India youngster Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his first Formula 1 race weekend appearances of the season next month, taking part in first practice for the grands prix in Austria and Hungary.

Celis, 20, joined Force India as a development driver ahead of the 2016 season, enjoying six FP1 run-outs across the course of the year.

The Mexican driver returned for 2017, taking part in pre-season testing and the running following the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.

Force India confirmed on Wednesday that Celis will return for FP1 in Austria next week, before also featuring in practice in Hungary at the end of July.