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Spencer: Limping Stewart still targeting Daytona 500 return
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA.
Tony Stewart is driving – just not in a race car, yet.
When Stewart returned to Daytona International Speedway on Thursday for Preseason Thunder, the three-time Sprint Cup champion said he “would definitely like to be in a (race) car this week. We’re on schedule to be clear the day before the (Sprint Unlimited)” on Feb. 15.
Stewart is still recovering from injuries sustained in a Sprint Car race in Iowa on Aug. 5 where the 42-year-old broke his right tibia and fibula. He has endured three surgeries since to repair the damage. He describes his health as “not bad” although Stewart continues to hobble gingerly through the garage.
“I’m a pretty good barometer right now,” Stewart said. “Seems like if the rain comes or snow or cold comes, I know it right before it changes. But I feel pretty good. I still have a little ways to go, but we’ve got four weeks to get ready for the rest of the way.
“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. I don’t mind it taking a little longer for the physical side to heal, as long as I can drive a race car when I need to when I get back.”
Stewart says the most difficult aspect of his recovery is gauging his progress. Though he’s raced for more than three decades and wrecked multiple times, Stewart had avoided serious injury. Consequently, he has nothing “to compare it to” other than to “base everything on a week-to-week deal.”
“On Sunday I kind of evaluate where I was the Sunday before and go from there,” Stewart said. “It’s been kind of a challenge from that standpoint. The physical side of it is an obvious deal. It’s getting everything healed back up and going through rehab and doing everything we’re supposed to do.
“But not knowing exactly what I’m supposed to feel like, if something hurts, why is it hurting? I’ve not had those experiences before.”
For now, Stewart is resigned to team owner and cheerleader of his four-car squad while veteran Mark Martin shakes down the No. 14 Chevy on the 2.5-mile track, weather permitting. NASCAR cancelled testing on Thursday and rescheduled an all-day session for Friday. Although Stewart has driven a street car for the last four months and had his seat fitted in the race car last month, he acknowledges “it’s still a question mark of what it’s actually going to feel like when we get in the race car and try to drive wide open for lap after lap.”
With Greg Zipadelli to oversee the operation of Stewart-Haas Racing, Smoke felt comfortable enough to take the necessary time to recuperate and prepare for Speedweeks. While Stewart says he’s “100-percent confident” when he returns in February that he’ll be “fine to drive and race and be able to do everything I need to do,” there was still a bit of apprehension in his voice.
“Today I can't sit here and say I’m 100 percent, but I’ve got four more weeks to go,” Stewart said. “I’m a lot further along now than I was four weeks ago, so I’m confident when we come back I’ll be fine. It’s hard to know when you get in the car 100 percent, but I feel like I could get in the car and drive right now. I just don’t know.”
It’s more than likely that once Stewart returns to the beach one month from now, puts on his helmet and straps into the car, any second-guessing will simply fade away.
THE NAME GAME
The race team formally known as Penske Racing in NASCAR will now share the Team Penske name, the organization announced in a release on Thursday.
But the IndyCar juggernaut wasn’t the only open-wheel operation to make a name change this week. Chip Ganassi Racing has dropped the “Earnhardt” from what was Earnhardt Ganassi Racing for the last five seasons. CGR’s current lineup includes drivers Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, but it is unknown when the organization will change its Twitter handle from @EGRTeams.
41: Teams testing at Daytona
7: Teams expected to compete in the Daytona 500 that opted to skip the exercise, including Furniture Row Racing, JTG/Daugherty Racing, Front Row Racing and Phil Parsons.
Jeff Gordon on his preseason makeover after he was asked about the sport’s veterans topping NASCAR’s stats.
“I shaved this morning because I had a beard that I had grown for about three weeks,” Gordon said. “I looked in the mirror and I was like, ‘Wow, man, I am really gray.' I felt pretty old this morning. I was actually feeling a lot younger after I shaved until now.”