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Stewart meets the press for first time since accident
4 September 2013
Although he arrived at the press conference in the Stewart-Haas Racing media centre in Kannopolis, North Carolina in a wheel chair and had to be assisted into his seat before the session could get underway, in almost every other respect Tony Stewart seemed right back to his old self.
"Oddly enough, I actually miss you guys, which tells you that I'm not healthy yet!" he quipped at the start, referring to his sometimes prickly relationship with the media. "No, excited to be back, and the reason we're going to be here until your questions are over is because Mike took my wheelchair, so basically I'm stuck here," he added.
Stewart didn't have any new news to announce, but simply wanted to make himself available to the press to answer some of the backlog of questions that had built up since the winged sprint car accident in Southern Iowa that saw him fracture his leg in two places at the start of August and which will now see him out of action until the start of the 2014 season, with Mark Martin taking over at the wheel of the #14 in the meantime.
"They're looking at the beginning of February, which isn't a bad deal," he said of when his doctor expected him to be able to return to competition. "I guess if you had to have this injury happen, if it would have happened a month later, it would have got us in a really big bind for next year even, so we would have missed not only this year but the beginning of next year, as well."
That means Stewart should be back in action in time for the first race of the 2014 season, the Daytona 500 - although how much he will be fully race fit and whether or not he will be able to significantly participate in the pre-season preparation remains to be seen. But for right now those are questions for the future, and Stewart's priority is simply getting himself fully healed.
"There was a lot of skin damage where the bones, where they got through the skin during the accident," Stewart explained. "They've actually this past Wednesday took out 90 per cent of the stitches that were in the skin. The skin is healing really well.
"No extra surgeries," he confirmed. "We're not out of the woods as far as inspection right now with the skin or the bones, but the time frame that the doctor said is if we can get through the first two months and not have any dramas with infection that the odds of getting it are really, really low. We're halfway there on that, and the skin keeps healing faster than the doctor anticipated, so everything is progressing really well right now.
"He said it should be 100 per cent recovery. He doesn't see any problem in that whatsoever. There was no doubt in his mind when he said it he had a grin on his face and said it'll be 100 per cent. He said when it heals it'll actually be stronger than it was before."
"I do know that when we start therapy he said there's going to be a lot of crying involved, so I'm not looking forward to that," he admitted. "But I am looking forward to being able to get up and walk around like I'm used to doing and getting around like I'm used to. And the biggest thing is I can't wait to get back in a race car. I want to be ready for Daytona.
The hardest thing for Stewart has been the forced inactivity, with the suspicion being that Tuesday's press conference was as much to perk Stewart up as it was for the benefit of the media.
"It's definitely been a big change from being probably one of the busiest drivers on the schedule to being in bed seven days a week, 24 hours a day." he admitted. "We're getting around a lot better. I'm starting to get a lot of my independence back as far as being able to take care of myself and get up and shower, do all the simple things that we take for granted."
Stewart's accident had prompted considerable discussion about just how much extracurricular activity Sprint Cup stars should participate in, given the risks of suffering a serious, season-ending injury. Stewart conceded that he would definitely be scaling back his sprint car races next season as the packed schedule he'd planned this year had definitely proved too much.
"I wouldn't plan on racing 70 races again next year. I think I was a little aggressive on my schedule as far as how many dates I wanted to run," he admitted. "I'm definitely going to cut back the amount of races, just on scheduling purposes more than anything. I was starting to tell I was getting a little bit tired around Brickyard time.
"I am going to get back in a car eventually. There's no time frame on when I'm going to get back in one," he added. "Definitely going to cut back quite a bit, and a lot of that is - it's not been pressure from the sponsors," he insisted.
The other big story that's developed while Stewart has been incommunicado has been SHR's addition of Kurt Busch to he team line-up and the consequent expansion to a four-car line-up at very short-notice. With the process being directed by Stewart's co-owner in the team, Gene Haas, there had been speculation about whether this had caused friction between the two men.
"We're partners in this, and Gene wanted to make a change, and I've got to go with that," Stewart said. "His choice to add Kurt to the organisation, I really and truly was 100 per cent behind it. I was just concerned about the time frame. The rest of it, everybody's perception that we're fighting and arguing - there was never one argument between us.
"Gene was so excited about doing this and about having his hand involved in it, and that's great," Stewart added. "For me as his partner, I love seeing him this engaged, and I'm really proud of him for being as active in this process as he was."
Haas himself had already stated that he'd been surprised that Stewart had proved the astute businessman asking all the practical questions about whether it could be done, while Haas himself - the multi-millionaire businessman - was the one getting all excited about race teams and winning titles.
"I think Gene realises the value of the group that we have here now, and especially since his media session last Tuesday. I think he really understands this a lot more and that there's a lot more involved in it," said Stewart. "I think we would talk about it a lot more.
"He's definitely the guy that writes the cheques, and if he decides he wants to do something, I'm pretty sure with the fact that he holds the chequebook that he gets kind of the final say of it. But I think he values our opinions now and understands why I was asking questions and cautious about the time frame of it. So I think he respects that a lot more since last week."
Stewart added that he had never had any doubts about having Busch as a team mate in 2014: "Kurt is a huge asset. He's a guy that you know can go to every racetrack and has the capability of going out and being fast and being able to possibly win the race every week at every discipline."
The only thing that Stewart appeared to really regret was the way that his friend and long-time team mate Ryan Newman had been left out in the cold by all of this, with Stewart previously having had to let Newman go after determining that adding a fourth car to the team's line-up alongside that of his own, Danica Patrick and Kevin Harvick's simply wasn't viable. Stewart had intimated that if and when a fourth car was a possibility, Newman would be a leading candidate for the seat.
"I was pretty disappointed to hear Kyle Petty say that we basically lied to Ryan and deceived Ryan. Deceived was the word that he used actually. They said we deceived him at Loudon in doing this," Stewart said. "Ryan and my relationship is still the same [although] ince this has happened the last week, I really haven't had time to sit down with a heart-to-heart.
"I think today will answer a lot of his questions, but I still will have a conversation with him about it," he continued. "We were both very adamant to each other that our friendship was going to stay the same and we both knew where each of us stood as far as the business side of this and understanding that it wasn't emotionally driven, that it was business driven, and that through this our friendship would stay the same, and this won't change that."
But for right now, the focus was on trying to squeeze Newman into the 2013 Chase, with the #39 hopeful of making the cut-off via one of the 'most wins' wildcards but everything now hinging on this weekend's race at Richmond. "The biggest thing is I want him to focus on what we're trying to accomplish this year," said Stewart.Read the full transcript of the press conference