“Welcome to Daytona.”
That was Tony Stewart’s response when Holly Cain of NASCAR.com asked how his stamina was, and then took a dramatic pause.
Stewart’s trademark snark with the media is already in midseason form, even though his health isn’t, following his sprint car accident last August that took him out of the seat for the remainder of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Although Stewart isn’t at 100 percent yet – he’s not testing during NASCAR Preseason Thunder this week, his place taken by Mark Martin – he remains “a tick ahead of schedule” with plans to resume in his No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet the day before the Sprint Unlimited that kicks off Daytona Speedweeks in February.
“The hardest part right now is just not knowing where I’m supposed to be,” Stewart said. “I kind of base everything on a week-to-week deal, and go from there. It’s been kind of a challenge. The physical part is obvious. Getting it all healed up. If something hurts, I have to ask why is it hurting.”
Stewart only just got back to Charlotte a couple days ago, after spending extended time at home in Indiana. Adjusting to the time off, various visitors coming in and telling stories, and reflecting on what he has accomplished in a race car were all new parts of the recovery process.
As far as physical activity, Stewart has driven a street car for four months and had a seat fit at the SHR shops.
Stewart seems optimistic that new recruits Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch can win and make the Chase, and says Danica Patrick needs to continue to improve in her second season.
“I think every week we have three guys that can go out and win a race … on the fourth driver, I think Danica has the potential,” Stewart said. “I’ll be disappointed if all three of us don’t make the Chase. I’m not discounting, but it’s still a work in progress. For sure we have three cars that can win races and make the Chase right now.”
He also praised competition director Greg Zipadelli’s day-to-day management over the winter, with the team expanding to four cars.
“Why do you think I went home?” he joked. “It was a thrash at first to figure out how we’d do that. I think everyone got a plan together, and is sticking to the pan. The atmosphere at the shop, I’ve not seen before. It’s a high it’s never been at before. I’m really happy with where we are at. Best situation.”
Also of note, Stewart praised Mark Martin’s input – “he brings an agenda and gets it done” – and Stewart will race a sprint car again this year, but a schedule has not been determined yet.
“The Cup car is the priority,” Stewart said.