Tony Stewart broke his leg Monday night in a sprint car race in Iowa, an untimely injury that may end up having a profound effect on the three-time champ’s Cup Chase chances. (Say that three times fast.)
Stewart will miss this weekend’s race at Watkins Glen, and it’s unknown when he’ll be back in the No. 14 Chevrolet — though it could be sooner than you think. But regardless of how much time Smoke misses and how serious an impact his leg ends up having on his standing at the end of the season, the injury still raises an important question about drivers’ involvement in non-sanctioned races during the NASCAR season.
It has been argued — and fairly, I might add — that racers race, consequences be damned. It’s a part of the sport that must simply be accepted. But can you imagine another sport where an injury like Stewart’s — one suffered during a non-sanctioned event, during the season — would be acceptable?
Wishing Tony a speedy recovery & hoping everyone gets off his back. He’s a racer & is doing what he loves best. #keepingShortTracksAlive
Surely, LeBron James loves basketball as much as Tony Stewart loves racing, but you’d never see him balling in Rucker Park during an off-day in New York City. Can you imagine what would happen if Adrian Peterson re-tore his ACL in his Wednesday night flag football league, or if Justin Verlander blew out his elbow pitching in a beer league game over the All-Star break?
There’s an accountability in these other team sports that doesn’t seem to exist within the confines of racing.
Then again, there are some other factors to be considered. Whereas a LeBron injury would surely infuriate Heat owner Mickey Arison, and Mike Ilitch would probably have a conniption if Verlander blew out his elbow playing baseball for someone else, Tony Stewart’s boss can’t be too mad, because Tony Stewart’s boss is Tony Stewart.
There is probably a fair question to be asked about whether Stewart the part owner of Stewart-Haas Racing should have let good sense prevail when considering whether to allow Stewart the driver to compete in non-Big 3 events. I mean, is this really how the boss should operate? But in the end, if Stewart is comfortable putting his NASCAR chances at risk to compete on local dirt tracks, that’s on him and only him.
There’s also the issue of drivers not having an offseason to partake in these down-home races they love. No one is stopping NBA players from competing in the Drew League in South Central LA — though there have been cases of athletes being contractually obligated to refrain from such events — but when, exactly, are NASCAR drivers supposed to indulge in their little offseason pleasures?
The season finale at Homestead isn’t until mid-November, and by January, guys are already preparing for Daytona. And there’s probably not much sprint car racing going on anywhere in December or January. If Tony Stewart wants to race among the locals in Iowa, this is when he has to do it.
It’s a tough question to answer, but in the end, I think guys like Stewart and the countless other racers who take part in non-sanctioned events should be making their profession a priority over their hobbies — especially when they also serve as a team owner who should have the good sense to know when he’s crossing a threshold into danger and putting his season at risk. Where would you draw the line?