With the amount of injuries and fatalities in sprint cars this year, and considering how many races NASCAR champion Tony Stewart competes in during the year, he’s constantly asked, hounded and told that he should give it up.
Focus just on NASCAR, they’d say. Over the last few weeks Stewart never budged, never apologized for his love of racing and crisscrossing the country on any given night to do so. But after breaking the tibia and fibula in his right leg on Monday night in a sprint car crash in Iowa, Stewart is apologizing, to his Stewart-Haas Racing team.
“He’s in good spirits, a lot of pain, trying to get comfortable, but overall he’s obviously – he was worried about what everybody thought and apologetic and feels he’s letting everybody down here,” said Greg Zipadelli, Competition Director for Stewart-Haas Racing, on Wednesday.
“At the end of the day the reason we’re all here is because of him, so I know he’ll get back in it and make it up to us.”
Stewart remains in Iowa for the time being, a second surgery required on his leg. He’ll miss this weekend’s Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen as Max Papis drives the No. 14 Chevrolet. Zipadelli said there’s no timetable for Stewart’s return and plans will be made in the coming days about who will drive the car going forward.
One thing Zipadelli does know, he never expected Stewart to be out of a race car. For as much as he competes and as hard a racer he is, Stewart has never missed a NSCS race. Sunday at Watkins Glen will snap Stewart’s streak of 521 straight races, dating back to when he entered the top series in 1999.
Not even a broken shoulder in 2006 kept Stewart out of his car. He started the race at Dover and then yielded to Ricky Rudd. Since then, Stewart’s been safe and sound. Now, he has to sit on the sideline for the first time in his career, but Zipadelli said he’ll be involved in everything the organization does moving forward.
“No, I never imaged this. He is old school, tough, we’ll just deal with it and get the job done to the best of his ability, which is usually pretty damned good,” Zipadelli said about not seeing Stewart behind the wheel.
“As a company, we’ll do our best. We’ll hopefully get him healed up and to the racetrack and being part of this group and team as soon as we can and get him in the car as soon as he can.
“As far as what the team is doing and the race car and all those things, we’ll do our best to keep him in the loop and take the information that he has. Yesterday in between doctors’ visits and this and that, we texted and we talked, and we talked about Max and some other people and he’s been as big a part of the decisions that have been made here right now as anybody else.”
Since the accident the cries for Stewart and other NASCAR drivers to give up their extracurricular activities has grown stronger. Where things go from here, has yet to be determined. Even Zipadelli, who has been a friend and crew chief to Stewart, couldn’t say what the future will hold, but he believes the door might be open to having discussions with Stewart about it.
As far as the NASCAR season goes, Stewart was sitting 11th in points following his ninth place finish at Pocono. It made him the first driver holding a Wild Card spot for the Chase, which he’ll now miss for the second time in his career. There will be more races, though, and as far as Zipadelli is concerned, that’s all that matters, even as decisions may loom in the future.
“We all know Tony loves to do those races. We now that that’s his golf game, that’s his hunting, his fishing, all the things that the rest of us do,” he said. “There is a difference in the amount of responsibility we have and obligations to other people, and that’s where I think that’s kind of where it gets sticky.
“I think it [sprint cars] makes him better at what he does here, but it obviously leaves the door open for a situation that we’re in now. I think as many races as he’s run in the past, we’re probably lucky that this is the first time we’re dealing with this.
“You know, we’ll do our best at Stewart-Haas to put pieces together and sit down and evaluate it, it would be a lot easier to look at and talk about things right now because we’re in the situation that we’re in moving forward. That doesn’t mean anything other than we will talk about it, we’ll discuss it and we’ll try and do what’s best for Stewart-Haas and our partners in the future.”