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.”

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at Ground Zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.