DOVER, Del. – Approaching the one-year anniversary of his last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, Tony Stewart never dreamed the comeback trail would be this long or this arduous.
“I honestly thought I would be done with this by now as far as rehab, pain, all that stuff,” says Stewart, whose driving career was interrupted by a severely broken right leg suffered in a sprint car accident last August at Southern Iowa Speedway.
“I thought we would be healed 100 percent by now. I hate (the rehab). You sweat. You get out of breath. It is crazy. Then you feel sore. I don’t know anything about this that its good, but I know, at the end of the day, it’s going to make me feel a lot better.”
For now, the doctor appointments and therapy sessions continue as does the quest for success. Stewart last wheeled a Sprint Cup car to victory lane in the Fed Ex 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway last June 2. That’s a span of 35 races, 15 of which Stewart missed at the end of 2013.
Much has happened since. Notably, Stewart-Haas Racing team has added Kevin Harvick (one of two drivers with multiple Sprint Cup victories this season) and former Cup champion Kurt Busch, a potential Chase contender thanks to his win at Martinsville.
Stewart took a major step on a personal level when he got back behind the wheel of a dirt car for testing purposes this week. He’s also become more engaged in social media through Twitter.
“I think I’m having as much fun reading what (followers) are writing as they are reading what I’m putting out there,” Stewart says. “I realize what I’ve been missing.”
Of course, what Stewart is missing most is that first Sprint Cup victory of 2014. He’s won at least one Cup race each of the last 15 seasons. In 2014, he hasn’t come closer than a fourth place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway. In fact, he’s only led one lap – April 7 at Texas, where he sat on the pole.
“We’ve luckily been able to win one race a season my entire Cup career, so I don’t think there’s ever a point where you get panicked,” Stewart said, after turning in the second-fastest lap in Friday practice. “You don’t have to be stellar in the points (to make the Chase). You’ve just got to get a win (and) our track record shows that we can get it. It’s just a matter of when.
“Especially with the new rules package, I don’t think anybody’s in panic mode. Everybody’s still learning these cars, going to tracks for the first time this season. Six or eight weeks before Richmond (the season’s 26th race on Sept. 6), then you start panicking if you don’t have that win. But I think it’s still a little too early, at least for us.”
Dover has been no panacea for Stewart. Prior to last year’s victory, he’d finished no better than 20th in any of his five previous starts. His only other wins at the Monster Mile came in 2000 when he swept a pair of races for Joe Gibbs Racing.