DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The way Tony Stewart sees it, there’s no chance he won’t be ready, willing and able to compete in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing throughout February’s Speedweeks at Daytona.
Injured in a Sprint Car accident Aug. 5 in Iowa and sidelined for the balance of the 2013 season, Stewart has undergone three surgeries on his broken right leg — followed by a physical therapy regimen that has taken him from bedridden … to a wheelchair … to crutches … to the ability to stand and walk on his own.
“I’m 100-percent confident that when I get here in February, I’ll be fine to drive and race and be able to do everything I need to do,” Stewart said Thursday morning in the media center at Daytona International Speedway. “Today, I can’t sit here and say I’m 100 percent, but I’ve got four more weeks.
“And with four weeks to go, I’m a lot further along now than I was four weeks ago, so I’m confident that when we come back, I’ll be fine.”
In a sense, Stewart was on equal footing with the rest of the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Thursday. No one turned a lap at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, due to a persistent rain that washed out all track activities of the first day of Preseason Thunder, the first two days of which were to be devoted to NASCAR Sprint Cup.
“It’s nice to be back at the track,” Stewart said. “I would definitely like to be in a car this week, but we’re still on schedule to be cleared the day before [the Feb. 15 Sprint Unlimited race], so we’ll be down here for two days, hanging out and watching our teams run.”
The hanging out part was right, at least, but the rain quashed the possibility of testing the cars. With a rod in his leg from the second surgery, Stewart joked that he was more sensitive than ever to the weather.
“I’m a pretty good barometer right now,” he said. “Seems like, if the rain comes, or snow or cold comes, I know it right before it changes.
“But I feel pretty good. I still have a little ways to go, but we’ve got four weeks to get ready the rest of the way. Even when we get here in February, it’s not going to be 100 percent. Physically, I’m not going to feel 100 percent, but I’ll be able to do my job 100 percent, so that’s the main thing.”
Stewart is thankful he’ll make his return at Daytona, rather than at a more physically demanding track.
“Luckily, this is a smooth race track,” he said. “It’s not rough and bumpy. If it were Dover, I’d be a lot more concerned. But the hard part here is just with your throttle, with your right leg; you’re on the gas so long. That’s the only thing we’re worried about right now.”