Tony Stewart remains optimistic that he will have recovered from leg injuries sustained in a sprint car crash in time for next year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup-opening Daytona 500.
The three-time Sprint Cup champion, who was ruled out of the remainder of the current season after suffering a severe break to his right leg a month ago, admits that he still faces an extensive rehabilitation process, but says that the early word from his medical team is encouraging.
“They’re looking at the beginning of February [for a comeback], which isn’t a bad deal,” he said. “I’ve really been very vague with the doctors about what’s going on and what’s happening, and the reason for that is, I’ve tried to protect myself from myself by not getting too far ahead and not trying to do something too early that I’m not supposed to do.
“I’m really trying to guard against that right now. A setback would really be bad. [But] everything is going according to schedule and may actually be a little bit ahead of schedule.
“I’m trying not to get ahead of myself so I haven’t asked too many questions as far as what the time frames are, other than just the obvious of when am I going to be able to get back in a car, and [the doctor] is very confident February will be OK.”
Veteran Mark Martin has been called up to drive Stewart’s car for most of the remaining races in the 42-year-old’s absence, and Stewart said that Martin’s duties could also extend to pre-season testing next year if he is not fully recovered in time.
“I’m all for Mark Martin doing all the testing he wants to do,” he said. “I’ve never been a big fan of testing anyway. It’s like watching paint dry to me.
“If that scenario happens, I definitely hope he would be willing to do that, and would love to have him do that for us because he’s been around the sport so long and he’s so detail oriented, you couldn’t ask for somebody better to go into test. He probably would pay more attention than I would to what’s going on.”
Stewart also took time to acknowledge the support he received from the broader racing community in the wake of his accident.
“I couldn’t even type a sentence on my phone to reply to text messages, but I had 850 text messages in the first 36 hours after the accident,” he said. “I got one three days ago from [F1 driver] Mark Webber saying, ‘Call me; I had a similar injury, and just hope you’re feeling better’.
“The outreach from people from IndyCar racing, sports car racing, NASCAR racing, the sprint car community and the visitors that we had…that’s been a huge, huge asset, keeping me motivated and my spirits up.”