Even though he’s publicly admitted his leg isn’t completely healed from last August’s horrific sprint car crash, Tony Stewart still plans to go it alone for this weekend’s practice sessions, Sprint Unlimited and qualifying, as well as the Feb. 23 season-opening Daytona 500.
In other words, the three-time Cup champ will not have a relief driver standing by, period.
Stewart intends on fully taking part in all of the typical Speedweeks activities that Cup drivers participate in, including several practice sessions, Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited, Sunday’s qualifying, the Budweiser Duel 150s on Feb. 20 and ultimately, the actual 500 race itself.
“I’ve had to sit through the end of last season and the whole off-season, so I feel like I could get in a car right now and go race,” Stewart said in a Stewart-Haas Racing press release. “So, there isn’t any anxiety as far as what’s going to happen, it’s more about being anxious to get started and get going again. I think that probably will override any pain that may exist.”
Speculation had veteran driver Mark Martin, who filled in for most of the 15 Sprint Cup races Stewart missed after being sidelined last season, would be at the ready if Stewart could not complete the 500 or any other Speedweeks events.
That won’t be the case, apparently, even though Martin is expected to be on hand at Daytona International Speedway in his new role as a driving coach for Stewart’s teammate, Danica Patrick.
Martin tested for Stewart to shake down the No. 14 Chevrolet last month in preparation for Speedweeks.
Stewart suffered the worst crash of his multi-series racing career while competing in a sprint car race early last August 5 at Southern Iowa Speedway. He sustained several injuries, including having his leg broken in two places when a piece of the sprint car’s suspension came through the floorboard and shattered his leg.
He subsequently went through three surgeries, including having a rod inserted in the injured leg.
“Fortunately, we’re not in a situation where I’ve got to do 100-yard sprints,” Stewart said. “If we had to do that, we’d be in a lot different situation. I’ll still have to deal with G-forces, vibrations and all of the things that a race car driver navigates.
“We obviously won’t know exactly how the leg will respond and the amount of pain there may be until I’m in the car for the practice session before the Sprint Unlimited. Those are variables we still don’t know yet, but the stuff that we’re doing in therapy, it’s very encouraging.”