The two right-leg fractures Tony Stewart suffered in a sprint car race Monday night in Iowa could have a profound impact on how this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup championship plays out.
Heading into Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International, Stewart is 11th in the Sprint Cup points standings and holding down the first wild card spot with five races to go in NASCAR’s regular season.
Stewart-Haas Racing officials have confirmed that Stewart will not race at The Glen this weekend, but beyond that his prognosis was unclear as of Tuesday morning. In all likelihood, Stewart will leave Watkins Glen 16th or 17th in points and out of the wild card, at least temporarily. If he misses additional races beyond this week, his championship hopes are likely over.
On the other hand, Stewart doesn’t have to look far for inspiration.
In 2011, Brad Keselowski left the Brickyard 400 21st in points.
Three days later, Keselowski fractured his left ankle in a horrifying crash during road course testing at Road Atlanta. Against all odds, four days after that, Keselowski won at Pocono. In the next three races, he finished second at The Glen, third at Michigan and won again Bristol, propelling himself to a spot in the Chase and an eventual fifth-place points finish. A year later, Keselowski was Sprint Cup champion.
Could Stewart pull off a similar miracle?
And if Stewart can’t come back and make the Chase, there still could be a silver lining: Right now, the only driver in points position 11-20 who has a race victory but is still outside the Chase is Stewart’s own teammate, Ryan Newman. In a cruel twist of irony, if Stewart doesn’t make the Chase, it greatly increases the odds that Newman will.
In any event, getting at least one team car into the Chase is vitally important to SHR, as Stewart told FOXSports.com in an exclusive interview in June.
“I think it’s huge,” Stewart said of racing for a championship. “If you’re in the Chase, and even the lead-in to the Chase, you’re getting so much airtime and exposure, and that’s what these sponsors and partners are looking for, obviously, is the return on investment. The more that they can get their logos out there and the mentions, that’s where they see their value.
“If you can make the Chase, everything leading into that first race is a big, big deal. You’re talking millions of dollars in advertising because of that. If you miss that Chase, it’s definitely a big impact on your organization. Even if you know you don’t have a chance to win the Chase, there’s a lot of value from an ownership side to being in the Chase.”
For now, though, SHR will have to wait to see whether it gets either or both of its drivers into the Chase. And a lot of that, ultimately, will depend on the severity of Stewart’s injuries and how much time he misses.