Four weeks after suffering a broken right leg in an accident during a sprint car race, Tony Stewart is on the mend.
It was obvious when he spoke with reporters on Tuesday at Stewart-Haas Racing's headquarters.
"Oddly enough, I actually miss you guys (media), which tells you that I'm not healthy yet," Stewart jokingly said during his opening remarks. "The reason we're going to be here until you're questions are over is that Mike (Arning, Stewart's spokesman) took my wheelchair, so basically I'm stuck here."
Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup Series champion, is sidelined for the remainder of the season after he underwent two surgeries to repair his fractured tibia and fibula. A metal rod was inserted inside his tibia. He said that no additional surgery on his leg is expected.
Doctors expect Stewart to be fully recovered by early February, in time for Speedweeks activities at Daytona International Speedway . Whether or not he participates in pre-season testing during the month of January is not known yet.
On Wednesday, Stewart is scheduled to attend a grand opening ceremony for a Bass Pro Shops store in Tallahassee, Fla. The outdoor recreation retailer is one of Stewart's sponsors at Stewart-Haas Racing. He also plans to be at Richmond International Raceway this weekend. Richmond is hosting the regular- season-ending race in Sprint Cup. The 12-driver field for the championship Chase will be determined after Saturday night's event there.
If one thing Stewart learned during his recovery, lying in bed watching TV all day got to be monotonous after a while.
"I haven't had to think very much the last four weeks. I've got to watch Oprah the last four weeks now, and I'm very tired of watching TV," he quipped.
All kidding aside, Stewart said his recovery has been going well, but he is eager to get back to the racetrack after spending several weeks resting at home.
"I am feeling a lot better," he noted. "We've made huge gains in the last four weeks. It's probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to deal with, and it's definitely the worst injury I've ever had in my racing career. It's been a big change for me, as probably one of the busiest drivers, to being in bed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I'm getting around a lot better, and I'm starting to get back a lot of my independence."
Stewart competed in 521 consecutive Cup races before his injury occurred on Aug. 5 at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Max Papis substituted for him in the No. 14 car at Watkins Glen, and Austin Dillon took over the wheel at Michigan. Mark Martin has been Stewart's replacement since Bristol. Martin is scheduled to drive the car for the remainder of the season.
Stewart's injury will require a lengthy recovery period, including several months of intense physical therapy.
"If this injury would have happened a month later, it would have put us in a really big bind for next year," he said. "As part of this process, I've been very vague with the doctors about what is going on and what's going to happen a month down the road or three months down the road.
"And the reason for that is, to a certain degree, trying to protect myself from myself by not getting too far ahead. I'm not trying to do something too early that I'm not supposed to do. I'm really trying to guard myself from that right now. A setback would really be bad. Everything is going according to schedule and may actually be a little bit ahead of schedule."
In the meantime, Stewart will be busy with his duties as co-owner of SHR. The racing organization recently announced that it will add a fourth team for the 2014 season, and Kurt Busch will be included to the driver lineup, joining Stewart, Danica Patrick and Kevin Harvick.
Stewart said in July at New Hampshire that a fourth team at SHR was not in the works. But co-owner Gene Haas had other ideas. Haas informed Stewart of his plans to add a new team three weeks ago.
"When Gene came to me about the fourth team, he told me on a Monday, and then on Thursday, I was told they had a contract ready," Stewart said. "It definitely moved a lot faster, but in that time frame, there were a lot of meetings in three days. The biggest thing is having (SHR competition director) Greg Zipadelli sit there and say, 'We can do this, and we can get it done in a time frame'."
Stewart's extracurricular racing had been extensive this year, as he planned to compete in 70 events. He anticipates being back in a sprint car next year, but his schedule will include less races.
"I will get back in a (sprint) car eventually," he said. "There's no time frame with when I will get back in one. But I'm definitely going to cut back on the amount of races, just for scheduling purposes more than anything else."