DOVER, Del. (AP) — Tony Stewart let his secret out this week on Twitter: He was back testing in a sprint car, feeling like he’d never left.
So when will he race again?
Well, Smoke didn’t need 140 characters to let reporters know if he’d make public the date of his return race.
Stewart kept mum Friday about any future plans in sprint cars, more than nine months after he broke his leg in a crash that cost him the rest of the 2013 season. He did complete a recent private test at an undisclosed track. The rest is for Stewart to know, and the racing world to find out.
“You won’t know when it’s coming,” he said at Dover International Speedway. “When I do go, nobody is going to know about it. I’m going to slide in and do it. I want to enjoy it. I don’t want it to be a cluster.”
The three-time NASCAR champion missed the final 15 races last year after breaking his leg in two places during a sprint car crash in Iowa. His first time back in a race car was Feb. 14, the day before he competed – and was crashed out of – the exhibition Sprint Unlimited.
His sprint car had been fitted with safety improvements to the torque tube to prevent an injury like the one he suffered.
Stewart said no one had tried to talk him out of returning to his weeknight passion. But if they had, well, the feisty champ known as Smoke wouldn’t listen anyway: “It’s my life. I’m going to live my life.”
Stewart cleared the mental and physical hurdles of returning to racing at Daytona months ago. And while his Sprint Cup season hasn’t been a huge success – he’s winless in 12 starts with only two top-five finishes – he hasn’t missed a beat in driving and running his Stewart-Haas Racing organization. But rehabilitation has dragged on much longer than he expected.
“As far as rehab, pain, all that stuff, I thought it would all be done,” he said. “I thought we would be healed 100 percent by now. But I keep going to the doctor on our scheduled appointments and they keep updating us on how it’s going and what they think the outlook is for it.”
He also needs to fix whatever ails his No. 14 Chevrolet team. He hasn’t finished higher than 13th in any of his last four races and crashed out at Talladega. He’s a woeful 22nd in the standings and in serious danger of missing out for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and driving for his fourth title if can’t win a race. That could happen any time – Stewart has 48 career wins and has at least one checkered flag in every season of his Cup career that dates to 1999.
“Our track record shows that we can get it,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when is it going to happen. … I think you get six or eight weeks before Richmond, then you start panicking if you don’t have that win. “
Stewart does have three career wins at Dover, including the spring race last season that snapped a 30-race winless skid. He was stuck in 20th in the standings then, a sure sign that all takes is that one checkered flag to snap Smoke back into the thick of contention.
“I think it’s still too early to panic, at least for us,” he said.