Last August NASCAR champion Tony Stewart saw his Sprint Cup season end abruptly. The part owner of Stewart-Haas Racing was competing in one of his many races away from the NASCAR circuit, a dirt race in Iowa, when he crashed and suffered a horrific fracture to his leg. Stewart missed the rest of the season and underwent several surgeries along with physical therapy. He skipped the preseason testing session at Daytona in January as he prepared for the 2014 season.
Friday at Daytona International Speedway, Stewart climbed back into a racecar for the first time since last August as the series took their first practice laps in preparation for Saturday nights Sprint Unlimited non-points race.
“It felt good,” Stewart said after his first practice session. “The great thing is there is zero percentage of pain in the car. That was nice. We will see what it feels like at 9 o’clock tonight, but so far so good. That is better than I was hoping for, honestly. I thought we would have some kind of ache, pain of some kind that would bother us. It was like putting on an old pair of shoes again.”
Stewart said getting behind the wheel again brought feelings of both relief and joy.
“I think once we got the relief of knowing we weren’t hurting anywhere then it was just joy of being back out there again.,” Stewart said. “It didn’t feel like I had been gone seven months when we started running. It was today though, every five minutes I was looking at the clock from 3 o’clock on going ‘is it 4:30 yet’ because I wanted to get dressed at 4:30 and come in. That is a long time to be staring at the clock for an hour and a half. That is small compared to the seven months.”
Perhaps the best part for Stewart was actually being able to climb into a racecar with no problems.
“I didn’t fall,” Stewart said. “ I think that was what everybody was waiting for. If there was ever a time to not screw up it is getting in the car this time. About 400 cameras there so I didn’t.”
Stewart added that getting back into a racecar and turning laps brought a great sense of relief.
“Especially not having any pain afterwards and not having any pain driving that is a big weight off our shoulders,” Stewart said. “It’s the only thing we couldn’t answer to you guys was what is it going to feel like after being in a car. Like I said unless after adrenaline wears off tonight at 9 o’clock I start getting sore it feels really good, much better than I thought it was going to be.”
Stewart was 10th out of 18 cars in the first practice, and 9th in the final practice.