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September 03. 2013 10:31PM

NASCAR's Tony Stewart aims for Daytona return

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — Tony Stewart asserted Tuesday at the Stewart-Haas race shop that his broken bones would mend in time for the 2014 Daytona 500 and that the organization he co-owns with Gene Haas was never fractured in the first place.

“They’re looking at the beginning of February, which isn’t a bad deal,” said Stewart, who broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg during a Sprint Car accident on Aug. 5 in Iowa. “I guess if you had to have this injury happen — it could have happened a month later, and it would have gotten us in a really big bind for next year.

“It would have messed up not only the end of this year but the beginning of next year.”

Next year’s Daytona 500 is scheduled for Feb. 23, and Stewart expects to be in the field, barring unexpected complications with his recovery.

“I’m really trying to guard against setbacks right now,” Stewart said. “A setback would really be bad, but everything’s going according to schedule and may even be ahead of schedule. ... I’m very confident that in February we’ll be OK.”

Stewart arrived at the dais for Tuesday’s press conference in a wheelchair and maneuvered into a seat behind a podium that featured the Twitter hashtag “#SmokeWillRise,” a nod to his widely known nickname.

As expected, the subject of Haas’ unilateral hiring of Kurt Busch was a hot-button topic, but Stewart was quick to dispel talk of a rift or a power struggle within his organization.

“It wasn’t as dramatic as he made it sound,” Stewart said of Haas’ appearance at an SHR press conference to announce Busch’s hiring a week earlier. “When Gene came to me about the fourth team, he told me on Monday (Aug. 12), and then on Thursday I was told they had a contract ready. It definitely moved a lot faster, but in that time frame, there were a lot of meetings in three days.

“The biggest thing was having (SHR competition director) Greg Zipadelli sit there and say ‘We can do this, and we can get it done in the time frame. That was my biggest concern. ... Every year (Haas) has been involved in the company, he’s become more engaged than the year before, and for him to take an opportunity like this to go find somebody like Kurt and do it in the 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.”

For the first time, reporters heard Stewart’s graphic description of the wreck that has caused the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion to miss the final 14 races of the season as he recuperates. Stewart described a dust cloud at Southern Iowa Speedway, somewhat like the cloud of smoke in the movie “Days of Thunder,” that obscured his view of the car in his path.

Stewart wore shorts to the press conference, with his knee exposed, revealing a long scar held intact by a series of butterfly bandages. On his foot was a large insulated boot, protecting the lower leg in which a titanium rod was inserted during surgery to reinforce the tibia.

The accident also reinforced Stewart’s resolve to help make Sprint Car racing safer, but it won’t stop him from participating in the sport.

“The thing is, you’ve got to live life,” Stewart said. “You can’t spend your whole life trying to guard against something. If you do that, you’ve wasted your time. We’re all here a short amount of time in the big picture. 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, I’ve got to worry about that.’

“If I got in a race car and didn’t wear a helmet and didn’t wear seat belts, that would be dangerous, and that would be 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 get my money’s worth.”

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