Tony Stewart is back and ready for action as Speedweeks officially began on Friday with Sprint Unlimited practice. Stewart has been a focal point leading up to the start of the season after he suffered a broken leg during a Sprint car crash in Iowa on Aug. 5.
Stewart underwent three surgeries to surgically repair his broken right leg and missed the final 15 races of the season. Max Papis, Austin Dillon and Mark Martin finished out the season in the No. 14 Chevrolet.
On Thursday, Stewart told media he was ready to go and that there would be no back-up driver.
At the start of first practice, Stewart climbed into his racecar and was on track for more than half of the 45-minute session. “There’s zero percentage of pain in the car,” Stewart said. “That was nice. We’ will see what it feels like at 9 tonight, but that’s better than I was hoping for, honestly. I thought we would have some kind of ache or pain, but it was like putting on an old pair of shoes again.”
Once Stewart climbed in the car, and realized the pain was not there, he said he felt relief and that it was just like any other race day. “Especially not having any pain afterwards,” Stewart said. “And not having any pain driving, that’s a big weight off our shoulders. That’s the only thing we couldn’t answer to you guys was, what’s it going to feel like after being in the car? Unless after adrenaline wears off tonight at 9 o’clock I start getting sore, it feels really good. Much better than I thought it would.”
Stewart was 10th fastest in the session with a best lap of 197.377 mph.
Before Stewart was on his way back to his hauler, he mentioned that he felt so good that he was tempted to head over to the local dirt track at Volusia Speedway. “If I didn’t think Greg Zipadelli would absolutely kill me tonight I would probably want to go race at Volusia tonight,” said Stewart.
“It felt that good. I don’t think Zippy would be the only guy. I think the entire organization here would probably duct tape me to the flag pole on the frontstretch so I couldn’t leave.”