Tony Stewart, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, speaks to the media in his first appearance since his sprint car accident.
AMANDA ELLIS: Good afternoon, everyone. We will now join the Stewart-Haas Racing press conference with three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, Tony Stewart.
THE MODERATOR: Tony, welcome back. I know these folks have missed you. How are you feeling?
TONY STEWART: Oddly enough, I actually miss you guys, which tells you that I’m not healthy yet.
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.
No, I am feeling a lot better. We’ve made huge gains in the last four weeks. This is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. This is definitely the worst injury I’ve ever had in my life and racing career. 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.
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. That’s stuff that we’ve been able to do here in the last couple weeks that we’ve gained back. We’re definitely making a lot of ground on it.
Q. What’s the prognosis, and when do you expect to be back in a race car?
TONY STEWART: They’re looking at the beginning of February, which isn’t a bad deal. I mean, it’s really — 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.
To answer your question, February is what they’re looking at, and something that is part of this process, I’ve really been very vague with the doctors about what’s going on and what’s happening, what’s going to happen a month down the road or three months down the road, and the reason for that, I’ve tried to kind of to a certain degree protect myself from myself by not getting too far ahead and not trying to do something too early that I’m not supposed to do. I’m really trying to guard against that right now. A setback would really be bad.
Everything is going according to schedule and may actually be a little bit ahead of schedule, but as long as — if we get done early, we don’t have anything to gain by it. If we have a setback we have a lot to lose by it. I’ve been pretty disciplined on just trying to not — every time the doctor says I’m going to see you in so many days, I ask what do you want me to do through that period and what’s the goal.
You know, I’m kind of learning as we go here. I’m trying not to get ahead of myself so I haven’t asked too many questions as far as what the time frames are other than just the obvious of when am I going to be able to get back in a car, and he’s very confident February will be okay.
He said it should be 100 percent 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 percent. He said when it heals it’ll actually be stronger than it was before.
Q. I guess I want to know what you’ve learned about yourself and your organization through this process.
TONY STEWART: I don’t know that I learned much about myself. I pretty much knew already that I could sleep 20 hours out of a 24-hour day going into this. But the team I’ve learned a lot about. The one thing, Greg Zipadelli, I can tell you this, when I heal, Greg Zipadelli is going to be the first one to try to kill me when I heal from this, but I’ve never been more proud of him and everyone here at Stewart-Haas. To go through what we’re going through and try to make the changes and the growth that we’re going through all at the same time and in such a short amount of time and go through this injury, this team has stayed extremely focused.
I’m proud of the group we’ve got. I think everybody has just kind of said this is the cards we’re dealt, now what’s next and what do we do. Nobody sat there like oh, this is doom and gloom. They’re like what’s next, how do we make the adjustment and what’s the plan going forward.
I’ve probably learned more about the team than I have about myself, which I’ve been very impressed with. I think they’ve done a great job.
Q. When you were injured and you’re sitting there in your own space, how much concern did you have about letting people down, your team and your employees and your sponsors and all the tentacles that come from Tony Stewart?
TONY STEWART: You know, you never want something like this to happen, but a perfect example this week is Bobby Labonte was riding his bike and broke three ribs and missed a race. It’s just life, guys. Things happen every day. You can’t guard against all the time, and the thing is you’ve got to live life. You can’t spend your whole life trying to guard against something happening. If you do that, in my opinion you’ve wasted your time. We are all here a short amount of time in the big picture, and I’m somebody that wants to live life. I’m not somebody that wants to sit there and say, I’ve got to guard against this and I’ve got to worry about that.
I mean, if I got in a race car and didn’t wear a helmet and didn’t wear seatbelts, then that would be dangerous, and that’s being foolish. We don’t do that. But I’m going to go live my life. I’m going to take full advantage of whatever time I’ve got on this earth. I’m going to ride it out to the fullest and I’m going to get my money’s worth; you can bet your butt on that.
Q. Last week Gene Haas was here talking about the fourth team, and he made a couple of jokes and comments about you guys weren’t necessarily on the same page when he proposed the idea to you. Are you now? Have you guys worked through it? Are you excited about it? Where are you?
TONY STEWART: Well, it wasn’t as dramatic as he made it sound. You know, when Gene came to me about the fourth team, he told me on a Monday, and then on Thursday I was told that they had a contract ready. So it definitely moved a lot faster, but in that time frame there were a lot of meetings in three days. And the biggest thing was having Greg Zipadelli sit there and say we can do this and we can get it done in a time frame. That was my concern. It wasn’t that I was against the idea of what Gene had in mind.
In all honesty, you think about what role he’s played in this company, ever since I’ve been a part of Stewart-Haas with him, every year he’s become more engaged than the year before, and for him to go out and take an opportunity like this to go find somebody like Kurt and do it in a time frame and make this happen in such a short amount of time has really been encouraging to me as his partner in this deal.
It was just me getting caught up more than anything, and when he asked me about it, I wanted to make sure that we had the time — the timing is very tight, and we’re going to have to get a lot done in a short amount of time to accomplish this. But I think it was really Greg saying we can do this and we can get this done in the time frame, and it may not be fun and it may not be easy, but we can do it. That was what made me finally give my 100 percent blessing on it.
Like I said, it wasn’t that — we never argued about it. He asked me my opinion, and it was just Gene being — Gene was so excited about doing this and having his hand involved in it, and that’s great. I mean, for me as his partner, I love seeing him engaged now. I’m really proud of him for being as active in this process as he was. I was just worried about the time frame, and that’s what he hired me for. My job is to protect this company, to look out for it, to make sure what we do we do in the right timing, and like I said, Greg was the big factor of assuring me that we could do it in the right time frame and not hurt the effort that we’ve got with Ryan trying to make the Chase and run for a championship this year.
Q. Just want to go back to, I can understand and appreciate your point about you’ve got to live life with your limited time here. Obviously your situation is different from mine or a lot of other people, and certainly a lot of people depend on you here in this organization. How does that responsibility change? Does this incident make you rethink that to some degree in that balance between your responsibility to the folks in here to your right to do whatever you want in your life? Has that changed?
TONY STEWART: Well, in saying that I’m going to live my life doesn’t mean I can do anything I want. But you can go in there and ask those guys, none of those guys missed a day of work through this. Nobody has got a cut in paycheck. It hasn’t changed their life as far as what they do and what their job and what their responsibilities are here.
My role in the company has definitely changed, but we’ve got a guy out here that you couldn’t ask for a better guy to come fill in and having Mark and Arlene here; thank you, guys. I appreciate you guys being here, first of all. That means a lot.
But this company has never stopped. I know what you’re saying about the responsibility, but I mean, I’ve been a part of meetings for the last three weeks. I haven’t really missed work. I mean, the only part of my job that I’ve missed as far as responsibilities to this company is I haven’t been in the race car. Granted, I’m not trying to downplay that, but I am going to go to Tallahassee, Florida, tomorrow to a Bass Pro Shops appearance; I’m going to be in Richmond on Thursday. I’m not missing work. I’ll have missed one appearance since this has happened, and other than being out of the race car, that’s all I’ve missed. That’s all I’ve let down as far as my responsibilities.
Like I said before, if I got hit by a car on the street coming to the shop and this injury happened, I would still have missed the same thing. You know, you can’t guard against everything, so as far as thinking about it, everything that I do we sit there and try to make sure we’re as safe about doing it as possible. It was an accident. It wasn’t something that — it wasn’t something that was pre-planned. It wasn’t anything other than just an accident that happens just like anything else in life that happens out there, just like Bobby’s deal this week.
That’s why they call it accidents; nobody does it on purpose.
Q. First of all, it sounds like you’re going to be in Richmond this weekend. I just wanted to see if that was the case, if you’d be at the track. And also, going forward are there any more surgeries or anything like that planned with your leg? What’s the medical plan going forward?
TONY STEWART: You know, when the accident happened on Monday night, they did surgery right away just to clean up the scenario as far as the bones, the tissue, the skin. There was a lot of skin damage in the accident. So they got that all taken care of in Iowa, which I will say that from the time that the car stopped in the wreck to the time that I got to Eddie and Dana Jarvis’s house, that’s about as good a care as I possibly could have imagined ever would have happened.
Jay Mercer was the first one to get to me at the race car, and he’s actually a doctor, I believe, in South Dakota, and then I’ve actually stayed in contact with him since. But he’s got a very good medical staff that takes care of the racers at Huset’s Speedway in South Dakota and they go down to Oskaloosa and help during Nationals week.
The care that his staff gave me at the track and all the way to the first hospital, and when we got to Des Moines and got to the hospital there, their staff in that first surgery went really, really well. They flew me back to Charlotte on Wednesday, two days after the first surgery, and on Thursday morning at 8:00 I went into the second surgery, and that was to insert the titanium rod that’s in my leg right now, and that rod will stay in. So there’s no anticipated extra surgeries after this. We’re on the mend.
They’ve actually this past Wednesday took out 90 percent of the stitches that were in the skin. The skin is healing really well. Like I said, there was a lot of skin damage where the bones, where they got through the skin during the accident. But the rest of those will actually come out with the doctor that helps us here with Stewart-Haas Racing that will be at the race this weekend. He’s going to take out the remaining stitches, and then we’ll be done with that.
No extra surgeries. There’s no — 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.
Q. I have two questions, both sort of related. Sprint car racing, you haven’t been asked directly, Zippy had said that all that racing, it’s your hunting, it’s your fishing, and it also gives you your edge, he thinks, into what you do. Will you keep up the same sort of schedule that you think you’ve done in the past? Question number two, Mark and Zippy both said in a joint press conference that their exact words are you are bound and determined to address sprint car safety and sort of make improvements that maybe should have been done years ago. What can you do and add to that going forward?
TONY STEWART: Go back to the first one again. What was the first one? Oh, am I going to run?
Q. Are you going to run?
TONY STEWART: I haven’t had to think very much the last four weeks. I’ve got to watch Oprah the last four weeks now, and I’m very tired of watching TV.
As far as getting back in a sprint car, this year was the most aggressive schedule that we had planned, and even if I was 100 percent healthy, 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. But even with that, some of the places that we went to, some of them are tracks that I’m like, aww, it’s probably not a place I want to go back to next year.
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, but 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, and that was — we had the truck race that week, which was a lot of stress, and we had a lot of races scheduled in the two weeks prior to that.
Definitely going to cut back quite a bit, and a lot of that is — it’s not been pressure from the sponsors. Everybody has been — our sponsors have been absolutely amazing through this whole thing. Everybody at Exxon Mobil, all the executives there have either sent text messages to me on the phone or sent us letters to the house. Johnny Morris is one of my best friends, and he came to the house and saw us.
You know, there’s definitely concern they want me to be healthy. They want me to be 100 percent health-wise, and every one of them is worried about my safety, and obviously the sprint car topic has been a little bit of a sensitive topic with them, and a lot of them just don’t understand everything about sprint car racing, so it’s easy to understand their side from that.
But they’ve all been supportive of me living my life and understanding why I do what I do. But for sure it’s definitely — I’m definitely going to cut back that schedule.
The safety side, it started before I even brought it up. Jerry Russell, who used to own Eagle Chassis, is developing a torque tube tunnel, which is kind of like a drive shaft tunnel like we have in the Cup cars for the same reason. Jeannie Butler and ButlerBuilt here in Charlotte have already been working on tether systems for the front of the sprint cars, where Jimmy Carr, my crew chief, has already been working on issues in the torque tube that he thinks can be addressed plus tethers for the back of the car to make sure that the rear end coming back like it did that actually caused the problem will be addressed.
The great thing is it’s kind of a movement similar to when Dale Sr. crashed and how it sparked a movement of safety, and in stock car racing it’s been really impressive to see how many companies and groups have really started looking at how can we make things better.
This wasn’t a deal where it was a wore out race car and wore out parts and somebody that you question their maintenance program. This was a brand new car that we had, and it was just the perfect storm and a freak accident that I’ve never even heard of what happened happening to anybody else as far as the actual injury and everything, as far as how it happened.
But the good thing is that it got enough attention to, I guess, get this movement started, and there’s a lot of people that are actively working on it right now. There’s going to be something that comes positive out of this negative of being hurt. Sprint car racing has had a dark cloud over it this summer and just a lot of things that normally don’t happen in it have happened in a short amount of time.
Reading some of the articles from people, from writers that don’t know anything about sprint car racing, what they wrote has just devastated the sprint car community. I think that’s been a big part in why some of these manufacturers have got involved and are trying to say, hey, this isn’t as dangerous as everybody thinks it is, but we can make it better. There’s going to be something positive come out, just like in NASCAR. There’s no formal group like NASCAR put together to actually do this, but it’s independent manufacturers that are saying we’re going to figure something out, and that’s pretty impressive to see.
Q. Going back to what you said about the heightened engagement of Gene Haas, I just wanted to get your thoughts on this to be able to clarify. You said pretty emphatically at New Hampshire, no fourth car for next year, and now of course while you were sidelined all these things get set in motion to add a fourth car. Was that a conversation that you and Gene never had, that he would be willing to foot the bill and pay out of his own pocket, the millions it would take to start a fourth car, and were there any concerns about the perception of how that might look, that it all transpired while you were incapacitated?
TONY STEWART: You know, when we had the press conference at Loudon, where we were at then, it was exactly what we said. It was 100 percent on the mark. There was no — 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.
Gene addressed this last week. This literally came up while they were at Indy at Brickyard and they were at a Chevy dinner, and that’s where the conversation of doing the fourth team for next year, that’s when it started.
I think as it progressed, Gene is not used to having partners. Gene is a self-made success story in the CNC industry, and he’s pretty much been a one-man show doing it, and this is the first time that he’s really had a partner. I think going through that process, I don’t think that he thought much — he just didn’t think about talking to me about it until it got further along.
Like I said, the Monday that they came, a week after my accident was the first time that he talked to me about it, and granted, I was in the hospital the week before, so that’s probably why he didn’t talk to me about it sooner, but a lot happened in a very short amount of time, and that’s why when he spoke to me about it was really the first opportunity that he had.
It moved along very quickly, and like I said, my only concern was the fact of the sponsorship about it and the time frame of building the team. As far as having Kurt, 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.
As far as having Kurt, having a fourth team, I wasn’t — there was nothing in my mind when he said that this disgrudged (sic) me because I knew from day one that Gene wanted this to be a four-car team eventually. I had no dream that he had it in mind for 2014 until three Mondays ago.
But as far as how it was going to look, and especially to Ryan, I think Gene addressed it last week. This was something that he came up with and it happened all at once, and Gene had made the decision that he wanted to make a change. We’re partners in this, and Gene wanted to make a change, and I’ve got to go with that.
You know, it was his choice to add Kurt to the organization, not me. I really truly was 100 percent behind it, I was just concerned about the time frame. The rest of it about everybody’s perception that we’re fighting and arguing, there was never one argument between us. I just expressed my concern about the timing of it, and it was no more elevated than the conversation you and I are having right here. It was literally trying to figure out the facts of can we feasibly do this in the time frame that we have and can we do it to the level that we want to accomplish in that short amount of time.
Q. I just want to confirm, was it the torque tube that hit your leg?
TONY STEWART: Yes.
Q. As far as your therapy goes, do you know what you’re going to have to do to get ready to be back in a car? And what will determine when you get back in the car? Is it just a matter of healing so there’s no further injury, or is there pain and muscles that you have to address before being able to race?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, the injuries are not just compound fractures. That was probably the easiest part of it. There is tissue damage, there’s skin damage that’s involved, and that’s kind of been the first part of this process that the doctor was concerned about was before even the bones. They put the titanium rod in, and that’s all they’ve done bone-wise up to this point. They literally, the first phase of this healing process was getting the skin to heal together, which I’ll admit I’ve been about as squeamish as anybody you’ve ever seen. I literally have damned near passed out at every doctor visit I’ve been to so far with the surgeon. I go into it with the attitude that I’m not going to look at my leg, and as soon as they get the wrapping off of it, I’m like, I’ve got to look. It’s like yelling at a dog going “squirrel.” I cannot not look.
And then I spend the rest of the time sitting there with a wet washcloth on my forehead trying to regain consciousness.
But once we get through that, as far as the therapy side, like I mentioned earlier, I really don’t know the time frame of that. I know I don’t have another doctor’s visit for three Wednesdays from now, and this is the longest that I’ve went without seeing him. But I’m pretty sure that right after that we’re going to start therapy, and like I said, the main reason I don’t know the answer to that is because I’m trying to keep from getting ahead of myself.
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. 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. As far as when he’s going to give me the green light, I don’t know what that’s going to entail. I’m sure a lot of it’s going to be really the bones being healed 100 percent, or as close that it needs to be to do what I need to do.
The rest of it I think is going to be up to us therapy-wise to get that back in shape, and I can promise you we’ll work really hard on that side to accomplish that goal, too. The doctor will ultimately make that decision as far as when we’re cleared to get back in a race car.
Q. You said you’ve been watching a lot of television. I just wondered, have you been watching a lot of NASCAR television, and what has it been like to follow the sport as a sort of fan rather than participant?
TONY STEWART: I’ll be honest, when I heard Kyle Petty say that we deceived Ryan Newman, I pretty much quit watching the talk shows and went to just watching the qualifying shows, the practices and the race. I’m kind of used to hearing some of that. I’m glad I’m at the racetrack and don’t see those shows because I was a little disappointed with it.
But every weekend, especially the last two weekends, my team has got me the radio that you guys are aware of that I can sit there and listen to the team and talk to the team from the bedroom and lay in bed and watch TV and watch practice. That’s been really — makes me feel engaged with the team even more. Even though I’m not there, I feel like I’m there. Even at Michigan when the 8:30 practice came up, believe it or not I was out of bed and watching an 8:30 practice.
Like I said, made me feel like there’s something still wrong with me because I’m getting up early and all that. I’m really trying to be as engaged as I can, and I’m not very much help laying in bed in Charlotte, but if there’s one thing that I can see when I see the car on the racetrack that can help, I like having that opportunity to be able to contribute.
But I get NASCAR.com, I get the timing and scoring on there, I get the little dots tracking around so I know exactly where the cars are on the track, I’ve got the radio up here and I’ve got the TV to follow the race. I like listening to Dale Jarrett and those guys on race day. I just don’t mind missing some of the other stuff that goes on before that really doesn’t matter.
Q. You just talked about how you’re staying engaged with the race team and that sort of thing. Is there any one thing that you are missing the most, other than obviously the obvious being able to go and do what you want to do with walking around? Is there one thing you’re missing in particular at the racetrack besides just being there?
TONY STEWART: The hot girls, there’s no doubt. I mean, when you’re laying in bed there’s not much traffic going through my room. I thought surely through three Cup championships, an IndyCar championship, winning the USAC triple crown, a national championship in ’94, that I could surely out of this whole process get one hot nurse during this whole thing, and I got Eddie Jarvis to take care of me.
And with that, Eddie and Dana, you couldn’t ask for a couple that is like family to me to take better care of me than they have. Nobody could do it. They’ve literally turned their house upside down for me, altered their lives for me for the last month and however much longer I have to interrupt their daily routine. They have been beside me and through this with me from day one, and there’s been other people involved that have helped out a lot, too.
When this happened Eddie had to make some really tough decisions in a short amount of time, and I don’t think there was anybody that I would have trusted more than him to make crucial decisions about where to go, what doctor to try to get in touch with to do the procedures, and I think he did it and handled it better than anybody you could ask for.
But yeah, I miss the girls at the track, I’ll be honest.
Q. After the wreck happened I think the wife of the other driver in the crash said she thought you might have even saved her husband’s life because you made a last-minute turn when you saw him. What did happen in the crash? Did you try to avoid it at the last minute? And once you were injured, did you immediately know, like this is season-ending, this is really bad?
TONY STEWART: What actually happened in the accident is he had hit a marker tire on the inside of the track, and when it did it pushed the tire in through the infield in the part that wasn’t watered down like the racing surface was. So it picked up a dust cloud. There wasn’t a lot of wind, but there was just enough wind that it pushed it over the top of the racetrack. What the view was like, I’m exaggerating when I say this: It was like the scene in “Days of Thunder” where he’s driving into the smoke cloud. It wasn’t quite that bad, but I couldn’t see through it, and leading the race I wasn’t going to jump out of the gas just because there was dust there because there’s a lot of times people get below where those tires are and in between them pick up a little dust that kicks across.
We have one-way receivers that race control has and nobody had called a caution, and like I said, it was a perfect storm. I think they were a split second of calling it probably, and when I got through the backside of that and could actually see what was on the other side of it, he was sitting right in the middle of the racetrack. The track we were running was a half-mile track, and it was very, very fast, and we were running wide open around there. The times were very quick.
You know, if it hadn’t kicked up the dust, I would have been able to see him much earlier than I did. When I did see him I was aimed straight at the cockpit. Even if I wasn’t aimed straight at the cockpit, your reaction is to try to go around it, but definitely in that scenario it was try to at least go somewhere other than where I was pointed. I knew I wasn’t going to miss him, but at least I got to the side of him a little bit.
I tried to minimize the damage of what was going to happen to both of us, but the way it worked out it ended up tearing the right rear suspension up.
As far as the second part of it, when I landed I started unbuckling my helmet and undoing my belts, and it just felt weird that I couldn’t — my right leg felt numb, and I thought I must have just banged it against the frame rail or something and it went numb, but when I looked down, like I told Steve Addington, it wasn’t like the toe was out on the front, it was more like we needed a jig to fix it. It was way out.
I knew at that point that it was fairly serious, and then when I went through the first surgery and realized — I didn’t really look at it, and it was still — my leg was inside my uniform so I really didn’t fully understand what the extent of the injury was until after the first surgery and after they kind of showed me X-rays and what had happened and what they had to do to fix it.
At that point I knew we were going to be out. The reason we didn’t let you guys know that, and I know you guys probably think we deceived you by not telling you that information, but the reason for that was we had to make plans to not only figure out what we were going to do for the rest of the year driver-wise but make a plan, and with Ryan, still trying to get Ryan in the Chase at that point, not have answers to who was going to be in the car yet, that would have been a lot of media attention and stress that the teams didn’t need to have. It was already bad enough, and that was our way, I guess, of kind of making sure we had our ducks in a row before letting you guys know what was going on so we had the answers to why we’re doing what we’re doing and that way we could make it a little bit more cleaned up on our end from the media side of it, being able to keep you guys abreast of what was going on. It did take some time to get all those details organized, to know what the answers were going to be so we had them when we met with you guys.
Q. Will all of your therapy be done here in Charlotte, or will you do some in Indianapolis with those doctors up there? And I know you said you didn’t want to get ahead of yourself, but has the doctor indicated to you how many days a week you will have to do your therapy and each hour of the day?
TONY STEWART: Honestly that’s part of my goal the rest of the week. We’re kind of in this three-week stretch here that he’s kind of said you don’t need to come back, but we’re already starting to do some things with bands as far as trying to get range of motion in my foot and stretching, pulling my foot back and extension. So we’ve kind of somewhat started that. I’m not going to say that’s my therapy yet because I know it’s going to be a hell of a lot harder than that. But like I said, not getting ahead of ourselves. I don’t really have the answers to that yet.
I’m going to reach out to the doctor here in the next couple days and try to figure out exactly what the therapy schedule will be, and I think at the same time that’ll help me understand whether I’m able to do it from Indiana or whether I need to do it from Charlotte. We really don’t know yet. I would like to do it from Indiana. I’m kind of ready to go home for a little bit, but at the same time I’ve got a lot of responsibilities here. The biggest thing I know from the doctor is he said he did not want two therapists doing this, that he wanted one person that was dedicated to it through the whole process, so that will dictate whether it’s there or here.
But we have to find out what that schedule is going to be. That will kind of help dictate where it’s going to be as far as whether I need to stay down here or whether I’m going to be able to do it from home. Whatever he says and whatever we decide on, I’m not going to waver from it. If I don’t get to go home and I get to do it from here, I’ve got a 200-piece family here that doesn’t mind seeing me every day. Either way I’m going to be content doing it where we have to do it.
Q. I hear everything you’re saying about Kurt being an asset and the conversations with Gene being just that. If you had been in a position to try to block this for logistical reasons, would you have or could you have?
TONY STEWART: It’s a good question, and I don’t know, because we have not been in that position through the last five years. I think through this whole process, I think it’s been a learning experience for Gene, as well. We’ve never, ever had to think about anything for the last five years I’ve ran Stewart-Haas Racing. I definitely welcomed Gene being engaged like this, and I am excited he wants to be a part of it.
You know, I think Gene realizes 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. But he’s a smart man, and he understands what it takes to run a company, and I think he appreciates the job that Brett Frood and Mike and Eddie and our group here really do and have done for the last five years.
I think we would talk about it a lot more. He’s definitely the guy that writes the checks, and if he decides he wants to do something, I’m pretty sure with the fact that he holds the checkbook 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.
Q. With one race left to go in the regular season before we get to the Chase, can you evaluate the performance of both the 39 and the 10 for the first 25 races?
TONY STEWART: Well, I think on the 10 side for sure, we all knew it was going to be a learning year. I was pretty impressed with Danica’s race on Saturday. I know 21st isn’t what she wants. Her standards on where she wants to be each week is much higher than my expectations are each week, but I thought she ran a really good race. And I think every week is just a learning week there. I don’t think we — I’m definitely not judging her success by her finishing position, I’m judging it more by the Monday morning meetings and listening to her feedback and what she gained knowledge-wise out of each weekend versus the finishing position at the end of the day.
Ryan, I thought Ryan and Matt Borland, I think they’ve done a great job. We all got a really slow start to the year performance-wise. Here recently, obviously Brickyard was huge, and you look at the race Saturday night, if they don’t get those last two cautions and it runs to the end, Ryan had a really, really strong shot at winning the race. The first restart got him hemmed up in a spot that even made it tougher after the second restart.
I know that wasn’t what he wanted for a finish at the end of the day, but in all reality that’s the best he’s run in Atlanta in a long time, so I really feel like they’ve gained a lot of momentum.
We’ve used our four allotted NASCAR tests that we’re allowed, and I think where there’s been some teams that are in safer positions and already locked into the Chase already, they’ve saved some of those for these last 11 weeks. But where we were at the first third of the season and our strategy and Zippy’s strategy of utilizing those tests a little earlier, I think we’re starting to see the results of that pay off.
Mark had a good start to the race and then got caught up in the same deal that Kasey Kahne got caught up in on that restart, and other than that, I think we were in line for a strong day there. He had to go out early qualifying, which wasn’t an asset for us there, but Mark is one of those guys that it doesn’t matter where he starts, he knows how to run the race and especially race the race in Atlanta, so there wasn’t any concern there, and I think we were in good shape there, as well, if we would have had the opportunity to not get caught up in the crash there.
I feel like all three teams are doing a good job. I’m really proud of the 14 team. I mean, to have Max in the car the first week, Austin in the car the second week and Mark in the car the third week, that’s three big changes. And Steve Addington is probably — you could probably not have to sign him up for Rosetta Stone to learn new languages because I think he’s had to learn three new languages in the last three weeks, or four weeks.
I think he’s done a great job, the teams have done a great job communicating and working and keeping their eye focused on what the goal is each week.
Q. Assuming you’re not back in the car until Daytona Speedweeks, are you going to have Mark continue with the team into ’14 to do the testing and development, and do you have somebody else that you’re looking to bring in?
TONY STEWART: I’m all for Mark Martin doing all the testing he wants to do. I’ve never been a big fan of testing anyway. It’s like watching paint dry to me. Like I mentioned earlier, if there’s ever — I don’t know that you could pick anybody any better to — if that scenario happens, I definitely hope he would be willing to do that, and would love to have him do that for us because he’s been around the sport so long and he’s so detail oriented, you couldn’t ask for somebody better to go into test that probably would pay more attention than I would about what’s going on with every detail. That would definitely be a great option for us.
Q. The busiest guy in racing goes from racing six nights a week to bedridden watching Oprah, and I guess that could go the other way where you could be woe-is-me and feeling bad about yourself, but you seem in good spirits and you look good, you look like you’ve lost some weight —
TONY STEWART: That was the goal. I thought, man, the only way I’m truly going to lose weight, because I’m not as dedicated as Mark is to the workout program, the only way I’m going to be able to do this is I’m going to have to break something so I can lose weight.
Q. Because that’s something that I asked Zippy, is the mental part of it going to be harder than the physical part. So how did you overcome that, and did being here in Charlotte and that steady stream of visitors, because a lot of guys said they went to see you and they found you in good spirits, did being in this community help you with that?
TONY STEWART: Absolutely. You know, and something that was really overwhelming right off the bat was the first 36 hours after the accident happened. I couldn’t even type a sentence on my phone to reply to text messages, but I had 850 text messages in the first 36 hours after the accident, and it was people — I got one three days ago from Mark Webber from Formula 1 saying, “Call me; I had a similar injury,” and just hope you’re feeling better. The outreach from people from IndyCar racing, Sports Car racing, NASCAR racing, the sprint car community and the visitors that we had. There was a day that we had nine straight hours of visitors, and I didn’t have a five-minute break between any of those. That’s been a huge, huge asset, and keeping me motivated and my spirits up.
I’m kind of surprised myself to be honest; I’m surprised I’ve been this upbeat about it, and I don’t know why. But I guess I just look at it as it’s just a bump in the road. I’ve raced 36 years and never had an injury that lasted — the worst injury I had was an IndyCar crash, and all I had was fractures, and there was no scars, there was no stitches, no anything that I had to look at. It was literally just waiting for it to heal enough that I was comfortable enough to even be in a car.
But it’s been surprising to me. To go 35 years and run all the hundreds of races and thousands of races we’ve run, and to finally have an injury, it’s like, this hasn’t been a bad run of going out getting hurt.
It just seems like a small bump in the road. I guess if this was the fifth injury in a row that I’ve had that put me out of a race car, I’d probably feel worse about it. I’m one of those believers that everything happens for a reason, and I feel lucky that I guess if it’s going to happen that the timing of it happened in a scenario where I’m not going to miss next year, I’m not going to miss a race.
It could have been a lot worse. I mean, physically it could have been a lot worse, but the scenario of everything else surrounding it could have been a lot worse than this. It’s not that bad.
Darrell Gwynn came and saw me, and that’s the one thing he said is he was really worried about me emotionally getting down. I spoke to him again this morning, and I guess a lot of people have been really surprised that we’ve been this upbeat about it. Got a lot of great friends and a lot of great friends that are drivers that I compete with each week that have been there to keep me pumped up.
Clint Bowyer has probably been my comic relief. When I know he’s coming to the house, I clean everything up around my bed, I clean everything up around because I know I’m going to be laughing so hard I know I’m going to knock stuff on the floor.
I really wanted to wear a shirt that he brought me this week, and like everything else I want to do, like being on Twitter, it got vetoed by Mike. But it has — it’s just a black tee shirt, and it’s got like the guy that’s on the restroom door, the little stick guy, and he’s got two crutches and the right leg is broke on the guy. But on top of that, it, with two letters in front of it “–it happens.” And I thought, man, that’s a perfect shirt to wear to this press conference today, but of course big brother is standing there over at the podium in his nice striped —
THE MODERATOR: I just wanted to keep you out of Twitter jail.
TONY STEWART: I’ve been thinking Twitter would have been a really good idea the last four weeks because I’ve got a lot of time to think and talk and reply to things. But again, I keep — the battles that I keep losing, like you mentioned whether Gene would actually trump everything. I’m still getting trumped by guys that I pay. My life really hasn’t changed much.
Q. We have a lot of folks listening on Sirius XM live on NASCAR radio, and all over it says #smokewillrise. What sort of reaction have you gotten from the fans who maybe didn’t follow you but felt for you?
TONY STEWART: Well, I know Mike follows that. I don’t even know how to look at Twitter to be honest. That actually was Mike’s creation. But we’ve got so many cards and letters in the mail that have that at the bottom of it, and I think it’s just something that everybody has kind of been able to grasp onto that reminds us all that we’re down but we’re not out, and we’ll recover from this.
It’s just, like I said, a bump in the road. I’ve got a stack of cards from fans just that have come to Eddie’s house that is this tall, not to mention what we’ve got at our race shop here. I spoke to my mom yesterday, and the amount of cards that we’ve got there, and they’ve actually put a board up, and everybody that comes into our shop has wrote messages on the board, and it’s just been overwhelming she said.
I know there’s a lot of fans that haven’t been able to talk to us that are supportive, and that’s the stuff — that’s the things that help you when you’re — when I’m having a bad day at therapy and I don’t feel like doing it or it hurts and you don’t want to go those extra 10 minutes or whatever, that’s the things that you put in your mind that help keep you motivated and wanting to push to get through this and get healthy, because it’s not just for me, it’s for 200 people here at Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s so Mike won’t yell at me, and it’s for our fans. It’s for the people that support us every week that miss me being in the race car.
Q. We know you support the Kurt Busch addition, but what are the things that are going to be really tough, and then where are you on Kevin Harvick’s team, crew chief, team members, that sort of thing?
TONY STEWART: Well, we got a crew chief, and I think we’re getting — I think he will dictate the crew members on that team like every crew chief always does, but I think Zippy is more in tune with exactly the details of what all is going to be — what all is going to have to happen to accommodate the fourth team, to get a lot of the new equipment that Gene wants to get through this process, and things that will help not only his car but all of our cars.
That’s more a question for Zippy as far as every aspect of what it’s going to take to do it. My role through this as well as healing is to be a cheerleader and keep Zippy pumped up. Like I said, he can’t wait for me to get healed up because he wants to beat the crap out of me right now for getting him in this position. But he’s been amazing through all this. This is a new — this is a relatively new role. He’s been in this role for two years now, but there’s a lot that’s going to be happening, and two winters in a row we’re not going to be on cruise control like he would — I don’t think any team ever is in cruise control in the winter, you’re always pushing hard, but this is going to be a different year just like last year was of getting new cars done last year.
Now it’s going to be new equipment, making changes to the building, adding a second building on the lot next door. There’s just a lot of stuff that’s going to be new, and Zippy is really the spearhead of that whole thing and going to be the guy that’s going to organize and orchestrate that.
Again, like we mentioned when we did the press conference about hiring Zippy, there’s nobody I trust more through this process than him, and literally like when he said that he thought we could do this and it wasn’t going to be fun and it wasn’t going to be easy but we could do it, then that’s what pushed me over the edge to say, okay, I’m in 100 percent with the timing of it, let’s do it.
Q. Since the news of Kurt Busch came out, I was just wondering if you’d had a chance to have a heart-to-heart with Ryan, and are you guys okay at this point?
TONY STEWART: Ryan and my relationship is still the same. Since this has happened the last week, I really haven’t had time to sit down with a heart-to-heart. Obviously he had a busy weekend with the Coke ride-along last week and the dinner on Thursday and then Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and during the weekend I wanted him to stay focused on what’s going on. But I think today will answer a lot of his questions, but I still will have a conversation with him about it.
But the biggest thing is I want him to focus on what we’re trying to accomplish this year, and even when we spoke earlier this year before we made the announcement at Loudon, 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.
Q. In the immediate time after the accident, did you fear about losing your leg or the end of your career or something like that because this sounds like such a dramatic injury? And secondly, you mentioned earlier about coming in and running the team in essence for the last five years, now Gene is seemingly becoming more involved in some sense. What kind of an adjustment is that in trying to learn how to work with in essence a 50/50 partner as they start to assert themselves a little bit more?
TONY STEWART: Well, the great thing is for five years I’ve done all the press conferences, all the meet-and-greets, and I welcome Gene doing some of these. I don’t think there’s a shot that he’ll do that.
But it’s not really — I welcome that change. Like I said, I’m proud that I have a partner that wants to be engaged and has steadily done that for the last five years and become more engaged as this has gone on. That’s a good sign. I mean, for a guy that has a lot of responsibility of running a multimillion dollar CNC business, he’s emotionally invested in this as much as he is financially. He keeps adding to that emotional side to it, too, which is great.
It makes me feel good that I feel like we’re making him proud and that he wants to be more involved and more engaged in it. That’s a great thing in any sport if you can have an owner that is becoming more engaged as he is. I don’t know that you can ask for a better scenario than that.
As far as it being an adjustment, there will be. Obviously the last two weeks, we sat with him last Monday and said, listen, what are you going to say when you go down there tomorrow. He’s like, I’ll just wing it. I’m like, no, you can’t do that. Speaking from experience you can’t just wing it when you get down there. He called me two days later, and he goes, man, you were right. He read what was written and realized that you’ve got to think about it or more than just shooting from the hip with it.
I think it’s as much of an adjustment for him as it is for me, but the good thing is we’re both working for the same cause and the same results, and that side of it is pretty exciting.
Q. (No microphone.)
TONY STEWART: I honestly didn’t know — I didn’t know what the extent of it was to be honest. You know, like I said, I’m kind of a — I’m squeamish when it comes to — I can’t let them draw blood to do my physicals each year without looking at the ceiling and stuff. When it happened and when it was — the doctor I told you that was the first one to me in the race car, he was also in the ambulance, and he tried at some point during the ride to somewhat explain to me what was going on, and I did this and said, I do not need to know. I don’t want to hear it.
I learned a lot more about it after the first surgery when the doctor — the surgeon came in when we got out of recovery and were coherent enough to understand what he was saying, and we realized the severity of it then. But the threat of losing the leg, I don’t think it was ever to the point where there was a huge threat of it. There was a lot of trauma that went on with the leg obviously during that, but by the time the surgery was over, they had already overcome all that and got everything stable.
You know, I learned a lot more about it after it happened, but I guess during that process I was on a need-to-know basis, and I did not need to know, for sure.
Q. I know you said that you’ve been watching the races, all the gadgets and radios and stuff, but what do you see? What’s your impression of watching the races? You’ve been in every Cup race since you started. What does it look like to you on TV?
TONY STEWART: Same as the replays look like when I watch them on Monday after the race. You know, I thought Atlanta was good. I don’t know, with the way the race was going, I don’t think anybody knew 20 laps from the end when we had that first restart, first of the last two restarts, I don’t know how you could have planned who exactly was going to win. Kurt’s restart was outstanding, and threading the needle, he drove by four cars in one corner on the restart there.
I guess it really hasn’t changed my perspective of it because you always see the replays on Monday or Tuesday or you see the highlights of it. From that standpoint it really hasn’t changed — I guess I’ve been a little more engaged than just watching it on TV. I spend more time watching the lap times on the computer and watching exactly where the cars are and really stay focused on listening to the audio, listening to Mark’s comments during the race and listening to my comments to how I talk about the car to Steve Addington and how Mark does, the language is totally different. But a couple weeks into it learning what he’s wanting and trying to figure out, okay, what will we do in that scenario, and then I can scroll to Danica’s channel and then I can scroll to Ryan’s channel, and just going back and forth, I stay really busy during the race because I’m not only listening to what’s going on in the 14 car but I’m really engaged with what all three cars are going through during the race.
Like I said, watching it on the computer, I’m not sitting back in a recliner getting a beer every commercial break and watching it on TV; I’m really engaged and got a lot more information than what they’re just getting from the TV broadcast side of it.
Q. You get lauded for all your success in various forms of motorsports, but one thing that seems to have come out with this incident, particularly from Gene last week, is talking about how engaged you were here at Stewart-Haas Racing, and even you today talking about I was the one who said are we really sure we should do this next year, and Gene said last week, I want to spend this money, Tony can be the good businessman. Do you think that your contribution here as a business owner, as an owner, has been kind of overshadowed a little bit the last several years outside of just being a successful driver, how much you’re engaged and what goes on here on kind of a day-to-day basis, considering how you entered it as being offered a half ownership?
TONY STEWART: I don’t think so. I mean, I’ve got a great group of people here, and I’ve got Brett Frood, I’ve got Eddie Jarvis, I’ve got Mike Barone under Mike Arning. We’ve got a great group that run this business together. I don’t run this business; there’s a group that runs this business. That group has been intact for five years. The part that scared me when Gene and I spoke about all this is that for a split second I was actually the adult in the conversation, and that probably scared me more than anything through the process was that I actually was the one that used common sense and was like, wait, let’s take a step back and think about this, and normally I’m the guy that’s throwing the dart on the board and saying if it hits, yes, I’m full throttle and I’m out the door.
But I think that’s part of what — I think that’s something that gained my respect with Gene a little bit was that he’s wanting to spend a lot of money right now to do this project, and it would be very easy for me to say heck yes, give me the blank checks and let me go run with it. But for five years we’ve ran this like a business, and that’s what he hired me for. He hired me to go out and win races but at the same time try to help this business along.
I don’t have a business degree, but I’ve got a guy that works for me that has one hell of a business degree, and if you just pay attention a little bit, you can learn a lot, and whether it’s the business guy or whether it’s guys that just have common sense that we have here, you can learn a lot in a short amount of time, and you don’t have to have a degree to make good educated decisions.
But through all this, it’s not me making a decision, it’s a whole group that makes the decision, and that makes this whole process a lot easier because I guess it’s, like Gene mentioned last week, a very good checks-and-balance system of sometimes there’s something that I think is a great idea, and somebody else may also think it’s a great idea, but two other people may say, yeah, it seems like it’s a good idea but these are the negatives to it. We’ve got a really good group that can look at whatever the topic is from a lot of different angles and really make an educated decision about it, and I think that’s what makes us a really good company. It’s not one or two people making the decisions; it’s a group of people that sit down and try to find every positive to it and every negative to it before we pull the pin and make a decision one way or the other.
Q. Now that you’re sprung from the house, are you going to resume more outside activities, and now that you’re going to Richmond, are you going to be in a wheelchair at Richmond? How will you get around the racetrack? And are you in a walking boot?
TONY STEWART: I think it’s a walking boot. I just got crutches Wednesday at the last appointment that I had with the doctor. If Eddie Jarvis had to push me around the racetrack this weekend in a wheelchair, we would have to stop every 100 feet for a smoke break, and I don’t feel like I’m going to get around like I would like to in that scenario. If I tried to go on crutches, I would have to stop every 10 feet and I would have to have a smoke break, and I don’t smoke, so I do have an alternate mode of transportation. There has been a little bit of thought put into this. I’ll surprise you with it on Friday, but when you see it you’ll realize that I’ve had a lot of spare time on my hands.
Q. Did you engineer something?
TONY STEWART: I don’t engineer anything. I’m just the guy that comes up with the really stupid ideas. Believe it or not, I learned how to use the internet and how to shop on the internet, which has made me very, very dangerous to the accounting department. I should be done with my Christmas shopping in about a week. Gene has got the blank checks. Unfortunately my account doesn’t tie into all of his accounts, unless he decides to adopt me any time in the next couple weeks, which I’m more than happy to do that. I think my parents would in this case perfectly understand, probably at this point in my life might be all right with it.
Q. Your most recent victory is the Rascal 500 right here, right?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I’m actually proud to announce that I have returned to racing, 21 days after my life-threatening and potentially career-ending injury. We had a scooter race upstairs with Greg Park, who is one of our head financial guys, who uses a scooter to get around, as well, and we had the Rascal 500 upstairs around the engineering department and the marketing department upstairs where I was victorious, and there is some video — not video, but we do have some photos of the victory lane celebration. I’m proud to announce that after 21 days I’m back in the winner’s circle and not forgot how to win races. It may take a little longer for the second one, but the first one was successful.
Actually Kurt was the one that supplied me with the scooter, and he spent — he went way above and beyond. It took him an hour and a half to build it Monday morning, and it took him about 15 minutes to show Eddie how to disassemble it and put it in the car and put it back together, which Eddie doesn’t really understand how to do that. Luckily we have about 200 people that are smart that know how to put mechanical things together, so that’s what I ride around at the shop in. Until I get stronger and can use the crutches more efficiently, it’s a fairly large building, and I can get around in a scooter a lot easier.
The guys are a little more attentive when they know I’m here because it’s electric, it doesn’t make a lot of noise, and I definitely can sneak up on them. That’s definitely keeping them on their toes.
Q. Since we’ve chatted with you, your driver Donny Schatz has a historic, incredible Knoxville National win and has gone on an amazing run in the World of Outlaws, and your other team Steve Kinser looks like he has picked up. Just assess going forward the final quarter of the season for your two STP World of Outlaws sprint car teams.
TONY STEWART: They’re definitely gaining momentum. With the exception of the first night at Skagit, which was on Friday night last weekend, he has not finished outside the top two in points since I think a week or two before Knoxville, which has been an incredible run. He tied his personal best for feature wins for a season last night with 19, and we’ve still got a quarter of the season to go.
You know, Steve has been on his side with the 11 car, has had a similar year to us, was really struggling the first half of the year, ran third last night and has had a couple wins since then. He’s gaining, as well.
His Bad Boy Buggies team is doing a great job, and Donny’s STP team is doing a great job. I’m really proud of that side of the organization, as well. They’ve just been on a hot streak.
Being laid up in bed, being able to listen to Dirt Vision, that’s part of my routine, and they’re on what they call a hell tour this week. They went to Washington Friday and Saturday and then they had Sunday off, and then they raced, since yesterday, seven nights in a row.
The good thing is talking about being stir crazy in the house and everything every night, it gives me something to look forward to at the end of the day that I’m going to get to listen to my race cars race in the evening for the next seven straight days, when I’ll go to the Cup race and watch my cars run. I’ve got a lot to keep me busy, but I think they’re doing a really good job.
Q. Have you gotten to sit down and talk with Kurt yet? And second, you and Kurt had some pretty hellacious run-ins in years past, just as Kurt and Harvick did, and Kurt and Harvick seem to be like this this year. Is that something that racers get through when they become teammates easier than us civilians think you maybe be able to?
TONY STEWART: Well, I think it’s kind of been inevitable at some point that all three of us during different stages are going to start growing up, and I don’t know that all three of us have completed that process yet, but I think to a certain degree and certain level, all three of us have made huge gains in that area.
You know, I think the good thing is, especially for Kurt’s side, it’s a new organization, and it’s the same with Kevin. But Kevin and I have raced with each other. I raced for him in the Nationwide car quite a bit, so we’ve worked together a lot. Kurt and I haven’t had the chance to work together, but I really think it’s an asset for Kurt to have both myself and Kevin as a support system, I guess, and to lean on each other. I think that’s something that will help the growing of him coming to the organization.
I told the crew guys, I said, there’s no doubt in my mind that through the hiring process, we’re definitely going to have to hire a lot more people for the team. There’s going to be two really key positions that we’re going to have to fill, and that’s, one, a therapist for me, and the second one is the therapist for the rest of the team. But it’s going to be fun. I think there’s a lot more positives than — everybody is looking at this as oh, my God, this is an atomic bomb that can get set off at any moment.
I look as it the opposite way; I think the fact that we’ve all been through this to a certain degree and we all don’t want to get back in that mode again, I think whether I get frustrated and those two guys calm me down or it’s one of the other two and the two of us calm them down, I think it’s a good support system for each other. But I think we all look at it as a positive that we all three as well as Danica — I mean, Danica is good at calming scenarios down with us. She was a little wound up in the trailer. I think we’ve got four people that can sit there and really work well together and can contribute, and they’re passionate and can go out and be competitive.
I think that makes it really encouraging for what we have in store for the team next year.
Q. I just wondered, a lot of people like to go home when they’re hurt or whatever, and it sounds like it’s going to be almost more difficult for you to go home now with your mobility and everything, and I wondered if you do get here, will you be able to do some of the things you really like to do, whether that’s fishing or whatever?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I mean, I actually got approval through the doctor, and Eddie has been, like I said, a huge part of this. I’m going to get to go to Richmond this weekend, which I’m excited about. I’m excited to not only spend time with my teams but at the same time get the opportunity to see other teams and NASCAR officials that I miss. But I am going to get to go home back to Indiana for a couple days after the Richmond race, and I’m really looking forward to that.
I’m not going to get to do a lot of things I like to do, which is get on a tractor or get a beer and go out in the woods and do a lot of things I want to do, but just getting to go home, as much as I love being at Eddie and Dana’s house, at the same time I want to go home just to get them some sense of normalcy for a couple days and let them get their life back for a little bit and not have to babysit me.
I’m pretty sure that fishing is not going to be too bad a strain on my leg, so I’m pretty confident I’ll get a couple days of that in before I have to come back. But like I mentioned earlier, if my therapy means I have to be down here, the biggest thing is getting my leg healed up and getting ready for the next season. If it has to be down here and I don’t get to go home, that’s just part of it and that’s part of the bump in road. But we’ll do what we have to do to get healthy again.
Q. While you were in a hospital bed, I was also in one. I had a heart ablation, so I kind of can relate to — I was only four days in a hospital bed, but I’d kind of like for you to share what it’s like to be all of a sudden, oh, man, this is a whole thing of life. What would you say to people that are mostly ambulatory all the time and in good shape and everything else, how fortunate they are and how much a hospital bed, as much as you need them, they’re not much fun?
TONY STEWART: From the sound of it, it’s affected your life more than mine. You know, I don’t think it’s necessarily a scenario where people take it for granted. I think we all know somebody that’s had an injury or had an illness that they’ve had to be in the hospital, and you see how it affects them and how it affects their families. But the big thing is, like I said, we’ve had a huge support system of people that not only came to the house to visit but people that have texted and called, and it makes you forget about the fact that you’re hurt, and probably in more aspects it reminds you how good of friends you have and how much you mean to people that you really don’t realize how much you mean to them, and that, I guess, to me far outweighs whatever injury I’ve got. The injury will heal, but having that sense of knowing how much people care about you probably means more than how long the injury is going to take.
Q. Did it surprise you that some of the fans who might not have liked Tony Stewart were so gracious to you when you were injured?
TONY STEWART: I wasn’t aware of that, but that’s pretty cool. Like I say, there’s one thing that Dale Sr. taught me a long time ago. In 2000 or 2001, we were riding in a truck together, and I went across during driver intros, and I got into it with somebody the week before, and it wasn’t very popular. I think 50 percent of the crowd booed and 50 percent cheered, and when we got in the truck together and were riding around, he knew I was pretty disappointed about hearing it. He goes, well, kid, you’ve finally made it. He goes, whether they booed you or cheered you, everybody made a response, and if you’re making them respond one way or the other, you mean something to them one way or the other. That’s something that even an injury like this, if it means something to you, whether they liked you or disliked you, you mean that much to them that they respond, I guess that’s a good thing.
Q. You talked about coming back for Daytona. What is the comfort point as to the date that the doctors have got to inform you that it’s a go or no-go for you to be ready for Daytona? Is it months? Is it weeks? What is the time frame or cutoff point for words from the doctors and also the point to let NASCAR know?
TONY STEWART: I’m honestly not sure. I think the doctor is very, very confident that it could be even earlier than that. The one thing that when we spoke about a time frame, I think at first he thought how soon can we be back in a race car, and my question to him was more just on the average, if we don’t have any setbacks and we don’t have any problems and everything goes according to schedule, what’s a comfortable time frame, and he said the end of December to the beginning — I mean, end of January to the beginning of February.
You know, like I said, this isn’t — we don’t have to push anything to get accomplished what we’re trying to accomplish here, and the biggest thing is we’re trying to accomplish not having a setback. I’m not sure what that time frame is of what a cutoff is necessarily. I don’t think we’re even thinking that way because we’re pretty confident that minus any setbacks we’re going to be there and be ready to go.
I think if there’s any setbacks then obviously we’ll address it as it happens, but as far as our mindset and focus, we’re focusing on being ready for Daytona and being ready to go 100 percent.
Q. Obviously you talked about listening to the radio and being engaged with the team, but do you watch these races at all with like a pit in your stomach or a sadness or a disappointment that you’re not out there either competing for trophies or for the Chase?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I mean, as a driver you always want to be out there. I mean, I didn’t have 115 races on my schedule because I don’t like racing. You definitely want to be in the car.
But I think what makes it easier to watch each week is none of this has been a scenario where I’ve had to make a decision to be in the car or pull myself out of the car. This decision was very cut and dried, and it was not an option. There was not an option of me going and possibly getting in the car this weekend. That would be a lot harder to do.
This is a very cut-and-dried injury, and I don’t have that option right now.
Knowing that there’s not an option of if we push and work really hard we can make it before the end of the year, I guess it takes some of that out of there, and it shifts your focus from wanting to be in the car to what can we do and what’s in the best interest of the team and how can we do everything we can to make it as good as possible.
I guess that’s kind of what’s made it easier as far as that standpoint of being able to turn the TV on and watch, and like I said, when I turn it on and watch and I see the car on the track, I’m excited because I want to see where the splitter is at, I want to see the attitude of the car, I want to see if it’s tight, if it’s loose. I just look at it from a different perspective now than what I’m used to, and I’m just in a different role now. I’ll pick up my normal role at Daytona, but until then, I’ve got work — I’ve got plenty of things to keep me occupied and busy, and staying engaged with the team is something that’s really important to me right now.
Q. And you talked about doing fewer races, that maybe you were a little bit tired. Did you feel like fatigue played any role just as far as reaction time in the accident itself?
TONY STEWART: No, not at all. I mean, what hurt the reaction time was the fact that there was just dust that I couldn’t see through. I looked at the video, and it looks like I’m driving off the nose wing of the car like I’m not even paying attention. But it’s hard from the camera angle to see what the dust was that we had to go through, and we were just running so fast there, it’s no different than a stock car crash where the car is sitting there and guys get in the wreck late. I was the first one to the scene of the crash, but it wasn’t because I wasn’t paying attention or was tired or anything. I mean, we started getting caught up, our schedule had started slowing down a little bit after Indy weekend. I felt like we were fine from that side. Physically I was fine doing what I was doing. It just was a weird incident that normally doesn’t happen and I’ve never seen happen.
Q. You just mentioned how you’re watching how the spoiler is sitting and the attitude of the car and that sort of thing. Is this time away from being behind the wheel maybe helping you become a better driver for when you return? Do you think you’re learning more from just watching and being involved in I guess a semi-pit crew or crew chief manner?
TONY STEWART: Just make no mistakes, I’m not qualified to even make a call on air pressure on the car, let alone anything else that’s going on. I don’t think honestly there’s anything that’s making me a better driver. I guess I look at it from the standpoint that I can lay in bed and watch TV all day or I can be excited about when the cars are going to be on TV and I can watch them go around the track and just pay attention and listen to their comments and stay engaged with what’s going on.
You know, I’m not — I can sit there and look at it and then listen to his comments and put what I’m seeing visually to what I’m hearing or put what I’m hearing and be able to see it visually on the racetrack, and that helps me understand more what’s going on during practice and during the race.
But it’s not making me any smarter, trust me. I’m not gaining much while I’m laying in bed right now.
Q. With all know how much respect and admiration you have for AJ Foyt, and unfortunately now you share something in common with him in terms of you’re probably not going to be walking the way you’d like to for the foreseeable future. Have you talked to him and offered any advice for somebody like yourself who’s gone through a major accident and ended up pretty well?
TONY STEWART: We really haven’t talked about the injuries very much. The funny thing is he goes, yeah, we’re both laid up right now, but the difference is he’s old and I’m middle aged. He’s supposed to not get around that great right now, and I should be getting around great.
No, I cherish every time I get to talk to him on the phone, and when he’s called he’s just calling and checking to see how you’re feeling, and he just is upbeat on the phone. We don’t talk about what happened. We talk about what his cars did that weekend, we talk about how our cars ran this weekend on this side, and we just enjoy each other’s conversation during the phone calls, and that’s something I really appreciate.
Q. Do any of the four of you have plans to do any Nationwide races next year that you know of?
TONY STEWART: You know, I normally only run the Daytona race, and I’m not sure if we are going to have plans to do that or not. I think a lot of it will depend on how the healing process is going. But I honestly don’t know on Danica’s side or Kevin’s side or Kurt’s side what they have planned. I don’t object to them running Nationwide races, even Kurt’s side as far as running — if he can get something put together to run at California for an IndyCar race or even Indy 500 in Danica, and Kurt if they have interest in doing that.
I don’t object to it; now, Zippy and Gene might have objections to that, and like I say, if that’s the case we’ll sit down as a group and figure it out. But other than the Daytona race, that would be the only Nationwide race that I would have on my schedule for next year.