Recovering Stewart has different outlook on life, career

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From the daily little things to his career as a Sprint Cup team owner and driver, Tony Stewart has a new appreciation for just about everything these days.

After breaking his right leg in a season-ending sprint car accident in August, Stewart was forced to slow down his life. He expects to be back to competition in time for the 2014 Daytona 500, but in an interview with the Associated Press, the three-time Sprint Cup champion and former Indy Racing League champion indicates that he’s changed a bit during his recovery.

“I think it’s very easy to get caught up in everything that’s going on, just daily stuff being a distraction,” he said according to the AP’s Jenna Fryer. “When you have all that taken away from you, your daily activity becomes a lot more subtle and you appreciate it all a lot more.

“Not only Cup racing, but everything that I do each day, I think about it different than I did before.”

And just as his general outlook is different, so too is his race team, Stewart-Haas Racing, which is now in the midst of an expansion to four cars for himself, Danica Patrick, and newcomers Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick.

The team announced a major reorganization this past week that will see Stewart gain a new crew chief in ex-Michael Waltrip Racing member Chad Johnston. Additionally, Harvick will be guided by another ex-MWR man, Rodney Childers, and Busch will have race engineer-turned-crew chief Daniel Knost on his pit box.

All of those changes, as well as the drivers’ sometimes combustible personalities, will have many observers watching SHR to see if they can pull it together and compete for a championship in 2014. But according to Fryer, Stewart is optimistic that it can all work out.

“I think we have a lot more potential than we’ve ever had,” he said. “Kevin and I have a great relationship. I’ve not really worked with Kurt before. The first time talking to Kurt, it’s been great so far. Enjoy our conversations.

“To me, there is potential to take this organization to a level that it just hasn’t had the opportunity to be yet because we’ve been smaller.”

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/