Tony Stewart’s 2013 NASCAR season could be cut short with leg injury

jutter@charlotteobserver.comAugust 6, 2013 

NASCAR Stewart Accident Auto Racing

In this Aug. 5, 2013 photo, personnel prepare to load NASCAR driver Tony Stewart into an ambulance after being involved in a four-car wreck at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Stewart underwent successful surgery Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, to repair the broken right tibia and fibula suffered in the wreck. Stewart will need a second surgery and remains hospitalized. (AP Photo/The Des Moines Register, Mary Willie)

MARY WILLIE — AP

— Tony Stewart remains at a Des Moines, Iowa, hospital after a violent wreck Monday night in a sprint car race that might cut short his NASCAR season.

Stewart, a three-time Cup series champion, broke his right tibia and fibula in the accident at Southern Iowa Speedway, a dirt track in Oskaloosa.

Stewart was leading the 30-lap American Sprint Car Series feature when a lapped car spun in front of him. Stewart’s car hit the lapped car and flipped.

He was taken by ambulance to a local hospital then airlifted to a facility in Des Moines, where he had surgery early Tuesday.

A statement released Tuesday by Stewart-Haas Racing said Stewart would require a second surgery and remain at the hospital under observation.

His fractures were classified as “Grade 2,” which refers to open fractures with cuts, moderate tissue damage and possible contamination of the wound.

Stewart’s planned test Tuesday at Atlanta Motor Speedway was canceled and the team confirmed road racing ace Max Papis would drive the No. 14 Chevrolet during Sunday’s Cup race at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.

Stewart posted the following message to his Facebook account Tuesday afternoon:

“I told someone to go get my phone or else I was going to get up and get it myself. Finally got reconnected to the world and just want to say thank you for all the prayers and well wishes. My team will remain strong and I will be back.”

The wreck is Stewart’s third in a sprint car over as many weeks.

Just this past weekend, he offered a vigorous defense of his frequent visits to dirt tracks.

His car rolled several times last week during a sprint car race in Ontario, Canada.

“You guys need to watch more sprint car videos and stuff. It was not a big deal,” Stewart said at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. “It’s starting to get annoying this week about that, so that was just an average sprint car wreck. When they wreck they get upside down like that. That was not a big deal.”

Former Cup champion and Fox Sports TV analyst Darrell Waltrip said Stewart’s injury could be “the straw that broke the camel’s back” when it comes to NASCAR team owners allowing drivers to venture to other forms of racing.

“When an injury happens to a driver of Tony’s magnitude – one of the sport’s most visible superstars – such as when Dale Earnhardt’s death spawned safety innovations, everyone takes a closer look,” Waltrip said.

“We already were questioning the wisdom of racing in other series, especially sprint cars.”

There are 15 races left in the Cup season. After his ninth-place finish Sunday at Pocono, Stewart was 11th in points.

With five races left before the Chase for the Sprint Cup field will be set, Stewart would have qualified for one of the two wild-card spots. Once he sits out a race, he’ll likely lose any chance at making the Chase.

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