Watkins Glen, N. Y. – It has been less than a week since Tony Stewart’s sprint-car accident and since the night of the devastating crash, there has been non-stop coverage and hundreds, if not thousands, of opinions rendered, ranging from ridiculous to practical. Major topics included questions about Stewart’s sanity for racing high-powered sprint cars, NASCAR management’s reaction, the safety aspects of sprint cars, the business impact on Stewart-Haas Racing, speculation on Stewart’s rehab and return to racing, lists of possible driver replacements and on and on.
Regarding Stewart’s status, he successfully underwent a second surgery in North Carolina on Thursday and his rehab is now thought to be underway. According to Greg Zipadelli, competition director at Stewart-Haas, the surgery went as well as can be expected. “It’s going to be a day-to-day situation right now just with infections and things of that nature. Hopefully, it will turn into a week-to-week and by Sunday or Monday, will know a lot more,” he said.
For the team, Max Papis will drive the Chevrolet at Watkins Glen and team management expects to name a replacement by Sunday or Monday for the upcoming races at Michigan and Bristol.
He’s in typical Tony spirits.
Danica Patrick advised that she has visited with Stewart and that his spirits were under control. She indicated that no one on the team was upset with Stewart. “We feel bad about him, but we are not upset (with him),” she said. “He’s in typical Tony spirits. He’s hassling the nurses, and everything you could imagine Tony is. He has pretty good spirits, but it’s one of those things, it happens.”
Jeff Gordon said when experts compile names of true racers, Stewart’s name tops the list. Regarding Stewart’s choice for racing sprint cars, he added, “For me, that’s Tony. I tell him all the time that what he does is awesome and unbelievable. I applaud and support him; it is just unfortunate as to what happened.” He went on to say that at times he is jealous of Stewart’s dirt-track exploits but has no interest in giving it a try.
Addressing the world of sprint-car racing, Gordon said, “When you are there, you are in awe of these awesome beasts of race cars with 930 horsepower and weighing 1,400 pounds. These cars just fly and they impress you. I totally understand the appeal of these cars, and I compare these guys to the Space Cowboys of the NASA program. They are sitting on top of a rocket without a lot of protection and there’s danger involved. I think there are some areas that can be improved with seats and otherwise. I hope to see something like this (Stewart’s accident) advance safety (of the cars).”
Jimmie Johnson is turned off by the adverse reaction to Stewart’s zest for sprint-car racing. “I look at the coverage and opinions that are flying around, and it’s troubled me to see people giving him a hard time,” he said at a press conference. “The guy has done so much for our sport and of course, we don’t want to see him injured, but I’ve been disappointed that people have given him a hard time over it.”
According to Johnson, the opinions that matter are those from the team and the sponsors. “They all knew what was going on and the risks that come with racing a sprint car. There are some in every form of racing. I would be bummed if he didn’t continue to race all during the week as he has, once he is healed up because that’s the Smoke we know and love.”
He went on to say that everyone recognizes how important Stewart is to the sport. “He wears a lot of hats and he wears them well. When we talk about personalities and how they drive the sport, he’s definitely at the tops of the list. He’s a blue-collar racer’s racer. He can get down in the dirt and get his hands dirty and get behind the wheel of a sprint car and win anywhere in the country on any night. And I think more power to him.”
The racing community is aghast with Stewart’s predicament but everyone recognizes how tough he is, and they believe he will return to racing more quickly than most predict, and do so with class. Until then, the feeding frenzy will be a fast and crazy one.