Last season three time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart announced that the 2016 season would be his last as a driver on the Sprint Cup circuit. Noting that his reason for retirment was not performance based, Stewart stated that not even winning 10 or 15 races would keep him from retiring.
Over the past two seasons, Stewart has hit a rough patch with injury and tragedy; and as a result has not won a race since the 2013 season.
On January 31, Stewart was involved in an off track incident while riding on an ATV – All Terrain Vehicle. The accident resulted in Stewart being hospitalized with a back injury.
While the extent of the injury is not known, Stewart’s racing team Stewart-Haas Racing stated that Stewart had movement in all of his extremities.
Stewart was due to report to Daytona International Speedway next week along with the remaining Sprint Cup drivers to begin Speedweeks culminating in the annual Daytona 500 on February 21.
NASCAR chairman Brian France said, “on behalf of everyone at NASCAR, I wish Tony a full recovery and look forward to seeing him back at our sport when he’s ready to return.”
NASCAR drivers are known for getting behind the wheel as soon as they are able…even while injured. Even if Stewart is unable to participate in the preliminary races, he can still drive in the 500 if he is able to do so. Even after his car has been qualified Stewart can run the race; he will just have to start from the back of the field. To date Stewart has run in 17 Daytona 500 races, but has yet to win the “ultimate race” in NASCAR.
Stewart won his last championship in 2011. Over his 17 year Sprint Cup career, Stewart has won 48 races. Coming to NASCAR after racing in Indy Car, Stewart is the only racer to have won a title in both divisions.
In 2013 Stewart was running in a Sprint car dirt track race when he fractured both bones in his lower right leg and missed the rest of the Sprint Cup season. In 2014 while running in another Sprint car race, Stewart’s car was involved in a fatal accident when driver Kevin Ward ran out on to the dark track and was struck by Stewart’s car.
Stewart’s childhood hero AJ Foyt spoke about Stewart saying, “I feel sorry for Tony, I think people don’t realize that wreck really hurt him more. He’s really a soft-hearted person and something like that really bothers you. I know I had an accident years ago when I ran IMC and a guy ran through the cockpit with me and threw me out on the race track and he lost his life. That bugged me and I had nothing to do with it.
Things like that bother you for a long time. If you don’t have no feelings, it wouldn’t bother you but Tony’s got a lot of feelings. And I just hope he goes out on top.”
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