Midway through last year, Tony Stewart suffered a bad crash while midget racing, resulting in a broken leg. Stewart has been working through the injury, doing rehab, with the destination to be behind the wheel of his racecar come February.
“I still have a little ways to go, but we've got four weeks to get ready the rest of the way,” Stewart commented. “Even when we get here in February, it's not going to be 100 percent. Physically I'm not going to feel 100 percent, but I'll be able to do my job 100 percent, so that's the main thing.”
For Stewart, he feels that his stamina is where it is supposed to be as he has been helping the team get ready and attending therapy.
“Occasionally you'll sit down and get a break, but no more than anybody else would,” he said. “But I haven't been just sitting the whole time I've been home. I've actually been down and working and trying to make sure that we don't go backwards by not continuing our therapy. I actually go back to therapy Friday night when we get back from the test. We're actually going in late to do a therapy session.”
The biggest challenge, for Stewart though, is not knowing where he’s supposed to be in his recovery timeline, and if he is at the right point with how he feels.
“The therapist gets his phone‑‑ I think he sets it on his nightstand at night because I call him at night and ask him a lot of questions,” Stewart added. “But having those guys around, it kind of takes the psychological side and kind of puts a lot of that at ease.
“I don't think his wife is happy I have his cell number, but I'm happy I have it. It's been a peace of mind for me.”
Stewart feels that he will be ready for Daytona and isn’t too worried as it’s a smooth track. However, there is concern with how his leg will feel due to the fact of how long you have to hold the gas pedal down and not moving the leg a lot.
“That's the only thing we're worried about right now just because we just don't know until we get in a car and actually run, and we're not going to know that until the day before,” he added. “We'll get a little bit of time in there, but we'll know a little better after practice is over.”
Stewart wasn’t able to test last week – Mark Martin tested in his place – but was on hand for the test at Daytona.
“It's nice to be back at the track, would definitely like to be in a car this week, but we're still on schedule to be clear the day before the Shootout,” he said. “So we'll be down here for two days hanging out and watching our teams run.”
Though he’s not back racing yet, Stewart is back driving on the street – four months now – and sat in a racecar a couple weeks ago for a seat fit.
“The hard part was they kept telling me I had to get out of it,” Stewart commented. “I wanted to sit in it. I felt like a kid. I wanted to keep moving the steering wheel and everything else. They said, you have to get out so we can finish doing our job with the seat. That was kind of fun to get back in there. It kind of felt like the first time I got in one. It was that kind of excitement.”
Last year marked a struggle for Stewart-Haas Racing as they were only able to find victory lane once with Ryan Newman. Both Stewart and Danica Patrick return this year, though are greeted with a pair of new teammates – Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch.
“I think they're really ready for the test here, which I think last year we were still scrambling to get parts and pieces, so definitely ahead of the game there,” he said. “There's a lot of stuff going on at our shop with redoing the building that we're currently in as well as the lot next door, trying to get it ready, so considering all that's going on there, I think Rodney (Childers) and all the rest of the crew chiefs have done a really good job, and (Greg) Zipadelli in particular, have done a great job of being able to work around the construction.”
So what’s the goal now? Simple – Stewart says he wants to win the Daytona 500.
“February here is high on that bucket list,” he said. “We haven't won here yet. We've won here, just not on the right day. The second Sunday would be nice. That's all that's on the bucket list right now.”