Daytona Beach, Fla. – Tony Stewart looked refreshed and determined as he walked into the Daytona International Speedway to begin preparations for the Daytona 500, the comeback race for the former Sprint Cup champion.
“I’m excited about it. Until now, I’ve been thinking in terms of days and weeks, but now it is down to hours,” Stewart advised reporters at Media Day on Thursday. “It has been a long time since August 5th (date of his sprint-car crash).”
The plucky driver said he has no apprehensions about getting back into the car, indicating his team has worked tirelessly to install comfort into it.
“We’ve tried to think of anything and everything that could be a problem in the car,” he stated, crediting the interior specialists for their work. Also, the pedal angles in the car have been adjusted to accommodate him. His biggest concern had been about getting in and out of the car, but that worry went away after testing himself out.
New teammate Kevin Harvick had a set of knee-knockers installed in the car. Knee-knockers are pads that hang off the steering column to keep your knees from moving around and hitting the column. Harvick has used them in his cars for some time. “Kevin told me it was not an option. ‘You are running them, he said.’ That shows what kind of teammates I have.”
Giving a boost to the process, Stewart said his on-going therapy has been going very well. “We have made huge gains in the last two weeks. I don’t know how we could be prepared more than we are.”
In terms of comfort, Stewart indicated he is more comfortable in the race car than he has been while on bed-rest. “Sitting in race car last couple of weeks, it feels even more comfortable than in a street car, a chair or in bed,” he said with a smile.
He says it will be back to business as soon as he gets into the car, figuring he will be running in a pack upon taking to the track. “I may grin afterward. but we have work to do after the first run for the Sprint Unlimited race,” he noted.
Stewart has been in regular contact with his mentor, A. J. Foyt, and the two of them have been comparing their injuries and respective healing processes. Foyt had surgery on his hip at same time as Stewart’s third surgery took place, and he called Stewart saying, “You have to keep being like me with all these surgeries.” Added Stewart, “He’s still A. J. and still my buddy.”
While Stewart will be concentrating on his Sprint Cup ride in the upcoming months, he does plan to return to sprint-car racing at some point in time. “The Cup car is our priority, but as soon as it feels good enough to do the things I like to do, I am going to go do it,” he commented. “We’ve made a lot of changes on the sprint car to make sure that never happens again.”
Throughout the lengthy interview, Stewart exuded enthusiasm and there was no doubt he’s physically and mentally ready to go. Once concluded, he walked out of the building without a noticeable limp and without any pain showing.