Twenty four hours ago, Tony Stewart was feeling better than he has in months. Today, that enthusiasm is tempered by an engine issue that sent his Bass Pro Shops/Mobil One Chevrolet to the garage, trailing hour from its header pipes.
Stewart was the second of three Hendrick Engines customers to experience a catastrophic failure in this afternoon’s Sprint Cup Series practice, joining teammate Danica Patrick and Phoenix Racing driver Bobby Labonte. Prior to the blow-up, however, the two-time Sprint Cup Series champion was all smiles.
"I have zero percent pain in the car,” said Stewart following Friday night practice for the Sprint Unlimited. “That was nice. We’ll see what it feels like at 9 o’clock tonight, but so far, so good. (It’s) better than I was hoping for."
Asking if his forced layoff from racing was more troublesome than the badly broken leg suffered in an Aug. 5 Sprint Car crash, Stewart said, “No, I don't think so. The pain was the worst part of it, for sure. That's a level of pain I've never had before. You would think that having the ability to lay in bed, you get comfortable. But I've never spent so much time lying in bed feeling uncomfortable in my life.
“I'm actually more comfortable sitting in a car than I am lying in bed at the end of the day. Sitting in the race car the last couple weeks getting everything done, it feels even more comfortable than a street car. If we could figure out how to take the seat and pedals out of the car and lay it back 40 degrees, I could sleep like a baby for the first time in a long time.”
Stewart said that even before his pain-free run yesterday, there were no plans to have a backup driver on hand to assist him.
“We're not going to need a backup driver,” he said. “I feel good enough that I'm confident we're not going to have to worry about (it). Everybody at our shop, especially the guy that does the interior on our car, has worked really close together. We've tried to think of absolutely anything that could be a problem. (There’s nothing) that's going to take us out of the race car. It's just a matter of making everything as comfortable as possible.
To that end, Stewart said teammate Kevin Harvick personally added a new piece of safety equipment to the No. 14 Chevrolet prior to Speedweeks.
“(He) didn't even ask me,” revealed Stewart. “He just went and ordered (it). He runs those knee knockers on the steering column, and he was like, `You're running this.’ He didn't leave it as an option. I showed up (and) it was on my car. You're running this. (It) shows what kind of teammates I have and what friends I have.
“Getting in and out of the car wasn't as big a drama as I thought,” he said. “That's what my initial concern was when he told me he was putting (the knee knocker) in there. But we've been to the shop and worked on getting in and out. It's pretty fluid now. I don't know how we could be more prepared than what we are right now. (In a) perfect scenario, everything would be healed 100% and we wouldn't be talking about it. The bone is about 65% healed right now, but as far as muscles and everything, the strength is coming much quicker than I thought it was going to be.”
Stewart said it will be “probably about another year” before he is 100% healed.
“We're about 65% right now,” he said. “There are so many gaps in the bone. A hairline fracture doesn’t have far to grow (to heal), but when you have pieces missing, it's got to regenerate that bone. When that (bad) weather came through last night, I knew it an hour before it got here. (My leg is) a barometer. I've had trouble with migraines before, (so now) I have a primary and backup system to tell you what the weather is going to do. I could have predicted within an hour when it was going to snow in Charlotte.
“With the titanium rod in there, I have the strength I need. But the actual physical healing is going to take a little longer.”